I have no problem letting people know how tired I am of “found footage” films. In my opinion, it’s often a cheap and lazy way to make a movie. However, if you’re going to do it, then throw the shaky cam out the window and be creative with it. And that’s exactly what the men behind The Bay (2012) opted to do. The movie is set up like you’re watching a documentary put together using various found footage sources and the narrator is a reporter who witnessed it all. As usual, there are situations where you have to just accept that the footage exists. The handheld footage makes sense when used but the fact that this small town would have so many cameras all over town doesn’t. That said, the setup worked and I was glad to see some decent images without all the shakiness.
The movie is primarily set in 2009 in the town of Chesapeake Bay, MD. The incident that we see unfold was essentially covered up by the government as they didn’t want the world to see what happened. However, a young reporter, who was there covering the 4th of July festivities ends up with what many would call the story of a lifetime. A woman comes out of a dunk tank and is soon covered in blisters. Then, one by one, the incidents begin to ramp up. More people begin to have blisters appear on their body, they become panicked and then the illness quickly spreads. A local doctor has to start amputating limbs to save the victims and he reaches out to the CDC for help. At first, they don’t really seem interested. After all, it’s only 30 people in Maryland. It’s probably just a fungus. However, when the bodies start to pile up, they soon realize it’s something far more serious.
There are several characters being followed. There are the two police officers who are running from case to case trying to figure out if the people were murdered or if it was something else. There is the footage of two marine biologists from weeks earlier as they are trying to figure out what is going on with the fish in the bay. A little girl who is trying to figure out what happened to her parents and why these blisters have appeared on her arms and legs. A couple with a newborn baby on their way to visit the grandparents and see the fireworks. Some of these stories work and I am willing to accept the footage, while others seem to be stretching it. However, for the most part, the acting is good enough. After all, these aren’t supposed to be actors but real people. There are a few that couldn’t act their way out of a high school play. Those moments pull you out of the film. And we shouldn’t forget the mayor of the town. Pretty much, if the mayor is involved and we have some creepy crawlies (Kingdom of the Spiders) or a shark in the water (Jaws), they should be tarred and feathered then fed to the beasts.
The main idea behind what is causing the blisters isn’t an infection. We have a nearby chicken plant that is dumping the feces of the steroid fed chickens into the bay. Of course, we also have a facility that is cleaning the water and pumping it out to every to use and drink. And nobody had a problem with this? It seems we have a little creature growing out of larva found in the water. These little nasties are like piranha. However, the thought of them growing inside you definitely makes my skin crawl. This premise is what made the movie work for me. It’s believable because there are countless cases of waste just being discarded without any thought of what it will do to the environment. Not getting preachy here, but the fact that many in the town were ignorant of what could possibly happen is reality. Now, does that make The Bay perfect? No, it doesn’t and like any “found footage” film, you really have to suspend belief. But, what The Bay does do right is it presents the story in something other than “we found this camera over here so let’s watch the people carry it around as the world around them goes crazy”. I went into this movie with low expectations after watching V/H/S and that clearly helped.
The cast is essentially full of unknowns. However, it’s directed by Barry Levinson, who had a string of hits back in the 70s as a screenwriter (…And Justice For All and Silent Movie) then as a director in the 80s (Diner, The Natural and Rain Man). After years of doing work in television (Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street) his return here is a little odd but it’s good to see him try something new and different. His experience is obviously what saves this movie from being another “found footage” hack job. It’s written by newcomer Michael Wallach. And no surprise that the producers also did Paranormal Activity, so they understand how to make “found footage” work. It will be interesting to see what he does next. The Bay is not perfect but definitely worth checking out. It’s currently available through sources like On Demand and Amazon Video. The official DVD release is scheduled for March 5.