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Bay, The
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by Jay Seaver

"An old pro shows the hand-held horror kids how it's done."
4 stars

First-person horror is generally a young filmmaker's game, a way to produce a movie with little in the way of resources where the cast being unknowns is a plus, maybe sneak into a genre film festival, get seen, and start working one's way up the ladder. That makes it a bit of a surprise to see seasoned veteran Barry Levinson dipping his toes into these waters, and he does it well enough that audiences might think twice about doing so literally after the movie.

The Bay doesn't label itself "A Barry Levinson Film" at the start, though; it presents itself as the work of Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), a former communications student piecing together what happened in Claridge, Maryland on July 4th, 2009 from footage found on a WikiLeaks-inspired website and her own memories. She was an intern at a local TV station, doing video blogs for the website and puff pieces like interviewing Mayor Stockman (Frank Deal) about the Independence Day activities. It's not going to be a slow news day for long - soon enough people are developing strange blisters that ER doctor Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken) is calling the CDC and the small sheriff's department is being overloaded with strange calls.

"Found footage horror" is the name often given to these sorts of movies, but Levinson and screenwriter Michael Wallach make their movie stand out in part by not trying to build a mystery around the source of the material: Donna lives through this, and The Bay looks and feels like her movie. Although mostly fairly linear, it jumps forward to her narration in 2012 and back to an earlier connected incident; the music is sometimes a little too much and Donna drops "he'll die later" in enough to make it a little less effective as ominous foreshadowing. But those apparent flaws are part of what makes it feel genuine, like the work of a talented but inexperienced young woman who is still extremely close to the material.

Donohue is impressive in the part, as well; she carries a similar nervousness in both the past and present, though in manifests differently: 2009-Donna wonders if she screwed up after doing something, the result of earnest ambition; 2012-Donna is still shaken by the events and can't charge ahead without second-guessing herself. Despite being the narrator and the one we know will survive, Donna doesn't quite take over the movie - there's a fairly wide ensemble at work. They mostly come in pairs - Kristen Connolly and Will Rogers as a young couple traveling to Claridge by boat, Chrisopher Denham and Nansi Aluka as a pair of oceanographers, Michael Beasley and Jody Thompson as local cops, Stephen Kunken as the local doctor and David Andalman as the guy on the other side of the call at the CDC - and they're all very believable. What's impressive is not just how their emotional reactions to what is happening seem right, but their interactions with the camera; they know when the camera would vanish as part of the day-to-day routine and when when it would seem odd or intrusive.

Drawing from a lot of different video sources gives Levinson a lot of room to cut it together in interesting and believable ways, too - there are few, if any, times when the audience will find themselves wondering why the camera is still rolling despite the mounting horrors, and being able to switch to the wide, static image of a security camera can convey just how freakishly still Claridge is without having characters yammer on in the background about how freakishly still everything is. Even what could seem like gimmicky perspectives like an endoscope are handled matter-of-factly. Indeed, it's very impressive how they take a style that often uses gaps in what the audience is privy to for authenticity (while inserting other bits of conversation to fill in holes) and manages to justify everything necessary to tell the story well without ever having to actually sell the audience on it.

And the story itself is pretty good. It would spoil some of the fun to spell out exactly what's going on, but it provides the filmmakers plenty of material for well-earned gross-outs and jumps, as well as chances to make other scenes impressively eerie. What's going on in The Bay is presented as chillingly grounded even as it seems like the stuff of fantasy, and while the filmmakers don't make as a big point of it as they could, there's enough to hook the movie into the real world to make the audience think.

Perhaps that's both the result of and the reason for an older guy at the helm of a movie like this: He's both committed enough to his idea and secure enough in his position to not sacrifice what he's built on the altar of "one last scare", but he's also canny enough to say it in the cinematic language people are speaking today.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24152&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/06/12 00:28:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/26/13 Langano Interesting flick 4 stars
4/21/13 action movie fan mutations menace shorefront-truly unsettling and scary 4 stars
4/01/13 David Hollingsworth One of the scariest movies I've ever seen! 5 stars
11/08/12 Abigail Done well! 5 stars
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  02-Nov-2012 (R)
  DVD: 05-Mar-2013


  DVD: 05-Mar-2013

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