The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Bay

Honestly, when I first heard that Barry Levinson was making a found footage horror movie, my first thought was, Wow, he must be really desperate to stay relevant. It wasn't just that the director of Diner, Rain Man and Good Morning, Vietnam had never made a horror film before; it was also that the whole found footage thing has become so gimmicky and stale. After seeing Levinson's The Bay, I now realize that my thoughts were incredibly unfair. One look at the film confirms Levinson had a terrific idea (co-conceived with screenwriter Michael Wallach) and knew the found footage conceit was the perfect way to execute it.

The film is largely narrated by Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), a local TV news intern who was sent to get coverage of the July 4th celebration in the town of Claridge, Maryland. As it turned out, she was there on the day when some kind of weird outbreak occurred, causing dozens of citizens to grow large, disgusting boils all over their bodies and scream in agony. Donna backs up her story with other points of view, taken from security cameras, Skype chats, 911 calls, squad car cameras, cell phone videos, and more. We see a local doctor trying to get the CDC to understand the severity of his suddenly bustling emergency room situation. Local police struggle to understand why dead bodies are littering the streets. A young lawyer named Stephanie (played by Kristen Connolly from The Cabin in the Woods) takes a boat across the bay, husband and newborn baby in tow, to experience the festivities, unaware of the devastation that awaits. Most importantly, oceanographers studying the Chesapeake Bay make a shocking discovery about parasites nestling inside the fish. In the middle of it all is John Stockman (Frank Deal), the mayor of Claridge. The evidence Donna lays out proves that something contaminated the water and Stockman knew about it.

The Bay has a one-two punch that makes it effective. First, because the source of the outbreak is based on actual Eco-system problems, it's entirely plausible. There is no giant monster in the sea or zombie virus spreading from bite wounds. Everything is based on real science and real problems that are currently affecting our ecology. This is not to say that what happens in The Bay could actually happen in real life, but you don't have to make a massive suspension of disbelief either. My rule of thumb is that the closer something in a horror movie is to reality, the more unsettling it will be. That's undeniably the case here. The film may make you a bit paranoid about your drinking water.

Second, Levinson does a masterful job of staging and arranging all the disparate footage. One of the primary downfalls of found footage movies is that you can often see the construction behind them. Filmmakers frequently have to find a reason why a particular event would be captured on camera. Consequently, it can feel manufactured, which takes you out of the story. Levinson draws upon a wide variety of footage sources, then combines them so they seem natural and real. He also coaxes authentic performances from his actors, including the background players, so that the horror of the Claridge tragedy is heightened.

I found The Bay to be immensely creepy and disturbing. The plausibility of the premise, combined with the execution of the found footage technique, makes for a horror movie that is thought-provoking while also being scary. There are a few times toward the end where Levinson goes too far out of his way to deliver the requisite big shocks that horror audiences demand; the film is more frightening when it's subtle. And, as is often the case within the genre, characterization takes a backseat to format. Even so, The Bay works as both horror and environmental activism. This is a fright flick with a purpose. It's also proof that, like 3-D, the found footage format can still have new life breathed into it when employed by an accomplished filmmaker.

( out of four)

Note: The Bay is showing in theaters and is available on VOD through outlets such as Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

The Bay is rated R for disturbing violent content, bloody images and language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

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