It's not every day that a filmmaker of Barry Levinson's notoriety and stature gets in on the current found-footage horror craze, but one must also take into account that his last three theatrical features2004's "Envy
," 2006's "Man of the Year
," and 2008's "What Just Happened"weren't exactly glowing marks on his resumé. A change of pace is what he must have been looking for, and, save for a return to his old Maryland stomping ground much like his "Baltimore" trilogy1982's "Diner," 1990's "Avalon," and 1999's "Liberty Heights""The Bay" is a radical departure from anything and everything he's previously done. Set up as a documentation of the fateful July 4, 2009 celebration that quickly went awry in the sleepy Chesapeake Bay harbor town of Claridge, MD, the picture's footage is culled from a smorgasbord of sourcespeople's cell phones, police cameras, raw news feedsthe entirety of them painting a grisly picture the government has thus far done a sterling job of keeping under wraps. Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) was a news intern back then, and she had a front row seat to the carnage that went down. No matter how dangerous it might be, she is finally ready to tell her side of a story that's been swept tidily under the rug.
"The Bay" achieves a first-person reality that not all pseudo-documentaries can attest toit's easier said than doneand with that comes a scarily plausible immediacy to the edited-together footage of a town coming unglued with the release of a deadly outbreak. The root to its cause is speculated upon but unknown, with everything from pollution to chemical steroids to a rare bacteria sparking a fast-acting, flesh-eating virus. The one thing that can be discerned is that something very, very deadly is in the water, the radical deaths of thousands of fish and black birds no coincidence to the mayhem occurring throughout Claridge. Suffice it to say, the annual nighttime fireworks will not be going off as planned.
As horrific as its situations are, "The Bay" has no first, second or third act, no rise in tension, no notable climax, and only a too-easy whimper of a resolution. As written by Michael Wallach, the film remains mostly on one straight line, forthrightly revealing the events depicted, but not really leading to any detectable catharsis. Instead of a big finale, the movie just hurriedly wraps up and switches to credits at the 80-minute mark while still seemingly in mid-stream. "The Bay" does not abide by conventional storytelling, and yet one cannot deny that it is genuinely creepy, a paranoid environmental horror picture where there is no escape from an awful fate once infected. There is a sleazy mayor (Frank Deal), as well as a married couple (Kristen Connolly and Will Rogers) who are boating up the coast with their baby to watch the fireworks, but for the most part novice reporter Donna Thompson is our guide and narrator. What she sees cannot be unseen, as much as the government wishes she'd leave it alone. "The Bay" is her sobering proof, and it speaks for itself.