By and large eco-horror films are not very good, or very memorable, which is probably why we don’t see them all that often. When we do, they’re usually bigger disasters than the events they’re trying to depict (see: The Happening). Attempts to show the horror on a smaller scale (Long Weekend (recently remade to lackluster effect as Nature’s Grave), Prophecy, The Last Winter, The Thaw) don’t fare much better, probably because despite how terrifying nature can be, filmmakers seem to struggle to convey this same terror to the screen.
Which is why The Bay is a pleasant surprise. Perhaps because it uses an entirely plausible set-up, something that has already happened (albeit restricted to aquamarine life), realistic monsters (be sure to Google “isopods” after you watch the movie; just make sure you aren’t eating anything when you do), and a realistic format to tell the story (found footage composed into a documentary, thereby obviating distracting questions about why the characters continue to film when they should be fleeing for their lives ), it manages to be a deeply unnerving experience.
The story (what there is of one) is narrated by a journalist three years after an event that wiped out half the population and shut down the (fictional) town of Claridge, MD for a period of three days. Only now has the video evidence–gathered from security cameras, cell phones, camcorders, Skype, etc–been released, and our journalist wants the world to know the truth of what happened to Claridge and the details of the subsequent cover-up.
And what she has to tell us is that in the typical American small town of Claridge, MD, there’s something in the water.
What elevates the material above standard schlock horror fare is–surprisingly–the use of found footage, a woefully overused format that nevertheless makes perfect sense here, and the director’s handling of the subject matter. Framing the well-executed scares and gross-out moments as the population of Claridge start to succumb to the parasite is some harsh commentary on the government, the CDC, and FEMA’s handling of the crisis. Director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, You Don’t Know Jack) doesn’t attempt to hide this critique, which only adds to the believability, and calls to mind past disasters in which bureaucracy got in the way of timely aid for the suffering. In typical Jaws fashion, brighter minds discover the threat early on and attempt to get the local mayor to take action, only to be ignored.
There are little touches of humor interspersed throughout that a lesser film would have completely bypassed, which makes them all the more welcome here. The marine biologists in particular had some witty exchanges that I quite enjoyed, and it’s refreshing to see that our journalist narrator is not an America’s Next Top Model-type, but an average girl who, as an intern for a local news network sent to report on the July 4th festivities, finds herself at the epicenter of an outbreak and crumbles appropriately.
The scares, when they come, are well done, and despite being something of a jaded horror fan these days, I admit I jumped more than once. I
also felt the crawlies all over my body while watching it, and had to set aside the snack I was eating. It’s gross-out not for the sake of it, however, but to show what might well happen if a parasite of this nature managed to adapt enough (forcibly, as this film suggests, thanks to steroids in chicken manure dumped into the river) to be able to invade the human body. And if the notion of mass quantities of chicken-
shit messing with marine life in the US seems laughable, read this.)
The performances are good too, with only the occasional bum note, but even this adds to the realism. With the rare exception, you feel as if you’re watching a real documentary. One particular sequence involving a young girl at the hospital using Facetime to keep in touch with her friend, is heartbreaking.
I went into The Bay with no expectations, as lately that has been the undoing of many of the films I’ve gone to see (Sinister, for one), and emerged shaken not so much by the scares or the delivery, but by the believability and implications of the central concept. The best horror movies serve as commentaries on the times in which they were made, and we live in a time in which our regard for nature and the ecosystem is deplorable.
Timely, topical, and terrifying, The Bay is well worth a visit.
- ‘The Bay’ Review (screenrant.com)
- ‘The Bay’ review: Be very afraid (sfgate.com)
- The Bay: Barry Levinson’s Aquatic Horror (seattleweekly.com)