‘The Bay’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated September 26th, 2014 at 3:22 am,

The Bay Movie Creature The Bay Review

Joining a growing list of films that attempt to put a unique stamp on found footage horror, The Bay is ambitious in its efforts – attempting to deliver a frightening movie experience interconnected with a precautionary tale about environmental irresponsibility.

Director Barry Levinson is well-known in Hollywood for a long line of classic character-focused films including Good Morning, Vietnam, Sphere, Wag the Dog, as well as Rain Man, and, in recent years, the Oscar winner has dedicated the majority of his effort to TV projects and documentary films. As a result, when it was revealed that Levinson would helm a fictional eco-horror film (shot as found footage), more than a few eyebrows were raised. Given the politically-charged setup for The Bay, many movie fans wondered if the esteemed director would be able to find a competent balance of scares and social commentary, in service of a good film experience, not just an on-the-nose lesson about treating mother nature with respect.

The result is a mishmash of captivating drama, disturbing (but not scary) riffs on familiar horror tropes, and tragically uneven storytelling. For every interesting element of the plot (such as unfolding drama at the county hospital and, subsequently, the CDC), there are a handful of thin story lines centered around one-note townspeople. In an effort to chronicle the unfolding horror from a variety of perspectives, The Bay is crippled by its enthusiasm – resulting in a jumble of unsettling set pieces, based on a terrifying premise, that don’t build to a particularly interesting, frightening, or profound conclusion.

The Bay Movie Kether Donohue The Bay Review

Kether Donohue as reporter Donna Thompson in ‘The Bay’

As indicated, the film is a composite of found footage from fictional Claridge, Maryland where during a July 4th celebration, townspeople begin to get very sick, very fast, suffering from throbbing lesions on their skin and painful abdominal cramping. Former student journalist Donna Thompson, a survivor who was covering the celebration, is the narrative center of the movie, appearing both in the archive footage (naive and in over her head she attempts to shed light on the unfolding crisis) as well as guides the larger found footage film years later – reflecting on the experience, educating viewers on the behind the scenes misgoverning of the Claridge community (which includes dishonest politicians and loads of government finger pointing), and sets up the various standalone character stories (including a young girl who records video of her escalating affliction on a smartphone). In addition to Thompson’s testimonial, The Bay relies heavily on fieldwork footage from a pair of oceanic researchers who, until they turned up dead, were studying the potential effects of unprecedented pollution levels in the water surrounding Claridge.

The two threads weave together for a compelling, and surprisingly believable, set-up; however, instead of successfully capitalizing on the fully-formed real world horror, the resulting course of The Bay is full of plot holes, abandoned characters, and underwhelming payoffs. The grounded approach is simultaneously the film’s strongest element and its downfall – since, once the true nature of Claridge outbreak is revealed, there just aren’t many interesting directions for Levinson to take the story. While the film presents a relatively “realistic” story about how a similar situation might actually play out – that doesn’t mean that, as a movie, it’s very entertaining to watch.

Performances are generally solid – with a number of actors (Donohue and Stephen Kunken as Dr. Jack Abrams) helping to keep things grounded amidst the chaos. Unfortunately, for all the time that the film spends introducing viewers to personal stories, most characters outright disappear with a casual line of dialogue, “he wouldn’t make it through the night,” and the ones that do stick around usually devolve into relatively standard horror tropes. As a result, instead of a nuanced account of everyday townspeople contributing to a biological pollutant soup, the ultimate blame for the Claridge event falls on a few greedy souls who knowingly ignored warnings in favor of profit. Shifting the focus away from individual character stories onto reckless “bad guys” is certainly a realistic story choice but isn’t likely to cause audience members any real introspection about their relationship with the environment.

The Bay Movie Maryland The Bay Review

A not-so-happy Fourth of July in ‘The Bay’

Any chance of reflection is further muddled by the film’s understated finale which, in spite of all the science talk that dominates the first two-thirds of the film, essentially convolutes any takeaways from the resulting aftermath. Once the source of the outbreak is revealed, several scenes are included solely to elicit foreboding in viewers and set-up horrific events down the line but few of the individual plot threads payoff with onscreen drama and others are merely abandoned with nothing but bland assertions “no one knows why some people survived.” The lack of tangible answers in the last few minutes of the film entirely undermines the carefully crafted premise – making it hard to excuse how manipulative the film can be from time to time in its effort to cause anxiety.

Regardless of the muddled story, Levinson does succeed with a number skin-crawling moments that, compared to the countless supernatural entries in found footage, offer a subtle and grounded approach to terror. As a result, it’s easy to imagine that viewers who go into The Bay expecting a gory drama with limited scope, not an outright horror film, will be captivated by the director’s effort – even if not every element of the project comes full circle.

Whether or not Levinson intended to craft a horror film, rooted in environmental issues, or a cautionary tale about ignoring nature that just happens to come attached with a horrific set of consequences, is up for debate. That said, separate from the director’s intentions, The Bay fails to provide a shrewd balance of story and scares and, instead, it’s two-thirds of a captivating found footage outbreak movie that’s crushed under the weight of lofty ambition before completing its runtime.

If you’re still on the fence about The Bay, check out the trailer below:

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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

The Bay is Rated R for disturbing violent content, bloody images and language. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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19 Comments

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  1. well, it seems to actually HAVE a story, which is FAR more than can be said for the vast majority of found footage films.

    and please, name ONE found footage film that does not end with “we don’t know what happened after…”

    • Mike – That’s not really a valid argument this round – because the Donna Thompson character narrates the entire video from the present. This movie doesn’t exist in a post-event vacuum like most found footage films. Much of the film is Donna talking about her experience after the fact.

      I’m avoiding spoilers but there’s a specific progression of scenes that are pretty manipulative – only to be explained away with nothing interesting added to the mix and zero onscreen payoff.

    • Chronicle.

  2. I had no idea this came out today! Is this sort of a limited release or is the marketing just really bad. Hmmm…

  3. Movie was a total disappointment. Probably the worst of all 2012 movies. Not even close to be a horror. It’s just full of drama and bad acting. Can’t believe I chose this for the weekend instead of Skyfall.

    • The Bay instead of Skyfall? Suzanne! Shame on you! :(

  4. Let’s put things like this: Skyfall is not that of a masterpiece anyway.

    • Well, no movie is perfect. ;)

  5. This movie is crap. Chronicle is still the only one in recent memory that’s marginally passable.

  6. Horrible movie. It wasn’t even scary or entertaining. It was just plain boring to me

  7. WORST MOVIE EVER!!!! And I was looking forward to it.

  8. The picture of the town looks like the Governor’s town on The Walking Dead!

  9. This movie was an over political turd that was painful to watch. Greed is bad, all of us and the polluting corporations are killing the planet. Valid concerns, maybe. Not what i signed on for. I am getting sick of all of these hollywood activists. I wont get my money back, which is ok, but my time is irreplaceable.

  10. Even the trailer was boring to watch. Kinda Looks like the original Romero crazies but found footage.

  11. I was itching and scratching all night after watching this! Loved Kether Donohue!! (HOT… in them Beige pants)

  12. I agree with ben and jareddac and danny and the rest who think this movie is complete horse####.
    I never liked camcorded movies and never will. Looks like a high school film making project.
    I hope this film never makes money so they’ll never produce another one like it.
    However, with the extremely low production cost, all eight of us in the theater is probably enough to recover their losses and rake up a nice profit too.

  13. I thought the movie was very realistic and it made me a little nervous about going into water and drinking water as well. Pretty creepy similar to “the stand” by Stephen king creepiness.

  14. The worst movie ever do not watch this movie wast of money and time!!!!!!

  15. Um…this movie was surprisingly very entertaining…There was a quick moment when I just about jumped out of my seat and I’ve watch hundreds of horror films…The fact that the fictitious event could conceivably happen or possibly have happened, made it even more scary. The special effects were unbelievably realistic and left me wondering over and over how they made it look so real! Not every movie is gonna follow the hollywood formula and we should reward such creativity rather than bash it like a lot of the wanna be critics on here. I think this movie was probably more of a labor of love than a big money maker…I saw somewhere that it only grossed like $37,000 in the box office lol. And I can guarantee it cost a lot more to produce and a lot of serious time with graphics to get everything so realistic…I applaud the makers of the film and was very entertained…