Published on November 2nd, 2012 | by Padraic Coffey0
The Bay (2012)
Barry Levinson’s The Bay hopefully marks the death knell for that once innovative but now vastly overexposed subgenre of cinema, the ‘found footage’ movie – that is, a film purporting to be amateur footage found in the aftermath of a terrible catastrophe. Primarily – if not exclusively – a facet of the horror film, ‘found footage’ was most memorably put to use in Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s staggeringly profitable The Blair Witch Project in 1999 (though some claimed they cribbed the format from Ruggero Deodato’s grotesque 1980 exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust). Strangely, despite the enormous success of Blair Witch (from a budget of $750 thousand, it grossed nearly $250 million), widespread copycats did not come into existence until Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity in 2007. Since then, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s REC and JJ Abraham’s Godzilla-pastiche Cloverfield have been the best of a bad bunch that includes Diary of the Dead, The Last Exorcism, V/H/S, The Devil Inside, Apollo 18 and a seemingly endless stream of Paranormal Activity sequels, as well as superhero flick Chronicle and critically-mauled teen comedy Project X. And yes, that’s Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson’s name attached to The Bay.
Levinson helmed wonderfully-written character pieces like Diner and Tin Men in the 1980s, as well as bagging a Best Director Oscar for Rain Man. Just how The Bay fits into his past filmography is anybody’s guess. There is precious little on which to grasp here in terms of characterisation. We are presented with an array of home movie footage, interspersed with police recordings, news reports and Skype interviews both during and in the wake of a disastrous July 4th in a quaint Maryland town. Within a matter of hours, hundreds of the town’s inhabitants fall prey to a sickness which manifests itself in severe lesions before those infected drop death, leaving horrifically mutilated corpses. Present-day testimony from inexperienced journalist Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) suggests a conspiracy leading all the way to the upper echelons of government. It is perhaps this angle that interested Levinson, having satirically portrayed authoritative misconduct in the likes of Good Morning, Vietnam and Wag the Dog. Still, there is little in The Bay that distinguishes it from the efforts a first-time filmmaker dabbling in a tried and tested formula.
For what is ostensibly an unrehearsed dialogue, Donna’s direct-to-camera recollections seem forced and unconvincing. “Whenever I see this footage it makes me sad”, she confesses, in one of the most unintentionally gormless horror film lines of recent memory. Levinson certainly pulls off a couple of effective shocks, and even moments of strange beauty, such as a pan across surface of the sea which has become congested with dead fish. But The Bay’s atrocious box office Stateside (a mere $30 thousand) suggests that audiences have tired of a style of filmmaking which requires no recognisable acting talent or sophisticated production values. European audiences – even hardcore horror fans – are unlikely to dissent from their American counterparts.