Barry Levinson's found footage horror movie The Bay uses every single camera we can think of to deliver the chills. From phone cameras to security cameras to underwater cameras, all of the various shaky shots come together to teach us that if we don't take care of this planet, mutant parasites will strip our bodies from the inside out. We screened Levinson's movie at New York Film Festival, and here are our very first impressions. Small spoilers ahead.
The Bay follows what happens to a little boating town once its water is polluted by a large quantities of poultry poop from nearby chicken ranches. The dumping of waste changes the ecosystem dramatically, and on the Fourth of July the whole town goes batshit crazy when a new pack of mutant isopods begin consuming residents.
Clever Cast And Cameras
The Bay starts off with an adorable narrator Donna Skyping her account of the incident that killed off most of the Maryland town. Her narration is coupled with footage from her first-ever on-air assignment as a reporter for the local news station, video taken in the local hospital (documented by the head of staff), police camera clips, facetime chats between teenagers, and the on camera log of two scientists from the EPA monitoring the brackish bay months before the incident (obviously their warnings were never conveyed to the rest of the town).
While I'm not entirely sure how the mystery documentarian behind this interview with Donna got footage of teens talking to each other via their phone cameras, it's not a big deal. The appeal is the variety. For a small town, they are pretty wired in and you get to see how this infestation spreads from various vantage points. This impending doom makes for a great tension builder. (Oh also, even though it's a found footage flick, most shots are fairly steady. Thank goodness.)
Makes Good Use of the Low Budget Scares
One scene that relied on screams rather than gore really stuck with me after the screening. Donna tries to report on-camera but is continuously interrupted by the screams all over town. People are screaming in pain and despair, and it's continuous and haunting. An easy chill for zero dollars. The reminder that there's a whole town dying also gave The Bay a sense of reality. It's fairly grounded in logic. For example, there's another scene where bodies all end up piled in the same area, and the explanation behind it is absolutely horrifying in it's simplicity.
There's high-quality gore in this movie. Boils, blood vomit, larvae-ridden flesh — it's great. Everything you see has a purpose. People are vomiting blood because something is eating out their face and intestines. Good! That's what should happen. It's quality horror and it just doesn't stop. Once the first boil appears on screen its a high speed eco-horror thrill ride. The idea that water could turn on you so quickly and aggressively is pretty scary. Once infected, there's no stopping it all the audience can do is watch along as the characters' bodies fall to pieces.
The biggest disappointment of the film was the lack of isopod money shot. The entire movie is slowly building towards one big moment, in which a human person opens their mouth and reveals the isopod has taken over their tongue. It starts with a pair of scientists who spot the first isopod fish tongue, gasping in horror. Later, a group of fishermen hook a feisty fish with an isopod in its mouth that quickly attacks them. The tension builds with copious shots of tongue-missing fish. And as the isopod infestation spreads to the human world there are a few off-camera moments where you can hear the mumble screams of tongueless victims. And in case you didn't know that these people were missing parts of their mouth, other characters scream, "Their tongues are gone!" Even the poster for The Bay is an x-ray of an isopod in a human mouth. It's awesome! But, the big isopod tongue reveal is simply not in the movie.
All of this would have been minor had the entire film not hyped up this moment and then fail to deliver. The Bay even goes as far to show the real-life isopod image that sparked the parasite story years ago. Why show this horrific image if you can't deliver the obvious end result? If you can't deliver the big payout, why even make The Bay this way? I wanted to see human screams muffled by a smiling creature perched in the helpless victim's mouth, not the images that inspired folks to make the movie in the first place.
We see the creatures burrowing out of people's necks and other various body parts, we see the beasts crawling out of corpses mouths, but not once do we see someone open up their jaw and reveal this horror. Which was an immense tease for me. And kind of a deal-breaker!
If I missed this moment because the footage was dark, or it was a quick glimpse of a isopod mouth, I apologize. But I didn't see it, and I confirmed with another audience member that also missed the moment. If it is there, I'll amend my statement. But as of right now, I'm pretty unsatisfied.
Give A Hoot, Don't Pollute OR FLESH EATING PARASITES WILL EAT YOUR INSIDES
Despite the isopod tongue tease, The Bay is still a pretty tight found footage film that manages to shock the audience in other ways. However, there are a few other problems under the festering surface like the heavy handed POLLUTION IS BAD theme for the remaining members of society that still think dumping chicken shit into the drinking water is a great idea. That paired with the laughably idiotic team at the CDC kind of throws this horror movie's realistic scares off a bit.
All in all, I had a lot of fun watching The Bay. Levinson doesn't let up with the scares and the action and even though a lot of the film is spent watching people talk to each other on Skype, it still moves forward very quickly. It's not perfect, but it's a good example of a well-rounded found footage flick. It really does feel like an off-the-grid research project, just with a lot more CG blood splatters and awesome prosthetic boils. Plus we're suckers for great body horror and the clever eco-terror twist is something we haven't seen in a while. It's like Contagion minus all the actual facts. Go see it if you're looking for a fun horror movie this season. It's not revolutionary, but it's get you to think twice about jumping into chicken shit water.