Retro Review: THE BAY (2012){0}

Every time I feel beaten down by a rash of mediocre new “found footage” horror flicks, I have to remind myself that HEY, I actually do like this gimmick. (Yes, still!) If I have to struggle through Area 407 and Crowsnest and Hollow to find buried treasures like [REC], Paranormal Activity, and Grave Encounters, then that’s just fine with me. But just as this “DIY” approach to storytelling lends itself exceedingly well to lazy first-timers with no ideas and no money, it can also evolve into something quite novel and creepy when handled by smart, clever, and/or experienced filmmakers. Thankfully that’s what has happened in the case of The Bay, a simple enough horror flick that could have easily become just another chintzy eyesore were it not for some clever writing, crafty editing, excellent special effects, and (best of all) a seasoned filmmaker who may by new to the horror game, but is obviously still a gifted storyteller.

Fans of Jaws will enjoy the simple-yet-effective premise of The Bay: it’s July 4th, and the lovely seaside town of Claridge, Maryland is enjoying a typically beautiful season. Oh, except for the disgusting biological horror that’s about to punch the entire population right in the gut. Much like in the great monster movies of the 1970s — I’m thinking mainly of John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy – it seems that basic human ignorance, greed, and stupidity are directly responsible for a mutated “isopod” that has infected the local fish, which in turn have poisoned the water, and … well, humans come into contact with water all the time. Things get really ugly.

Already The Bay sounds like a fun piece of “throwback” bio-horror with a firm and pointed ecological message, which is all fine and dandy, but there are a few more curveballs: yes, the entire movie is presented “found footage” style, and the director is … Barry Levinson? The guy who made Diner and Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man is now dabbling in low-budget, faux-documentary horror? Yep, and it ends up being good news for horror fans because, let’s face it, it’s cool to have a veteran director working on a style of horror that’s generally been dismissed as pure gimmickry. True, this is a gimmick, but it’s one that can still pack a punch once in a while.

The narrative, as it were, is cobbled together from a wide variety of sources: handheld cameras, traffic light cams, security footage, previously-suppressed “governmental” archives — and the best part is that Levinson and editor Aaron Yanes are able to present a handful of actual characters, subplots, and quick divergences that actually make sense, story-wise. The plot coasts forward like a comfortably simple monster movie, and the filmmakers have a great time stretching out the tension (with frequent doses of nasty bio-carnage just to keep us creeped out.) By the time The Bay winds to a close, it feels like a small but important victory for horror geeks: call it “found footage” or “mockumentary,” but there’s still some gas left in this gimmick’s tank.

Punctuated by a dark sense of humor, a handful of strong performances from actors who have a tough job (all things considered), and an obvious but clearly angry message about the ways in which we’re poisoning our own planet, The Bay is “modern” in presentation, old-school in attitude, and rather well-crafted throughout. It’s a ’50s premise, a ’70s theme, and a new-fangled presentation. Fun stuff. Also it gets really gross and disturbing, which I mean as a compliment.