Review of The Bay

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When two French researchers find a staggering level of toxicity in the water of Chesapeake Bay, they attempt to alert the mayor, but he refuses to create panic in the docile town. As a result, a deadly plague is unleashed, turning the residents of the seaside community into hosts for a mutant breed of parasites that take control of their minds, and eventually their bodies.
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Movie Review: "The Bay"
Rating: R
Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Genre: Horror

Director Barry Levinson is best known for his work in the comedy and drama genres thanks to films such as "Rain Man" and "Toys." He makes his first foray into horror with "The Bay," making it clear that he intends to scare the pants off viewers. The found-footage genre changed quite a bit since the days of "The Blair Witch Project," and while some fans aren't thrilled with it, Levinson hopes to change their minds.

Nature works in mysterious ways, and Levinson uses a random act of nature to set up the plot of the film. "The Bay" opens on July 4, 2009 when the small town of Claridge in Maryland witnesses a number of unusual activities. Residents find millions of dead fish lining the beaches, dead birds fall from the sky, and then the residents die after huge creatures wash up on shore.

Donna (Keather Donohue) attends a journalism school and finds herself in Claridge for a Fourth of July celebration. When the odd activities start to occur, she and a friend film the aftermath, which the film presents as true footage. Donna is on hand for everything that happens to this tiny town, documenting each incident as if she worked for a major news station.

The problem with "The Bay" is that Levinson occasionally lets his own prejudices and personal thoughts shine through in the film. It's no accident that the story takes place in Maryland; Levinson himself was born and raised in the state. There are moments in the film that showcase his interest in the environment, but he sometimes takes things a little too far. People get infected by a weird disease after drinking supposedly treated drinking water, and he makes it clear that the odd occurrences happen because of pollution and other problems caused by man.

It is easy to overlook those problems, especially when the film introduces a few scares. One memorable scene involves one of the creatures literally climbing out of a person onscreen, and another scene with a mutated local will cause all in the audience to jump out of their seats. It is clear that Levinson did his research, because the film draws inspiration from some of the top horror and sci-fi films of recent and past years, including "Paranormal Activity" and "Alien."

Far too many modern horror movies move at a snail's pace. Modern horror directors often use a great opening scene followed by too much exposition before getting back to the horror. That doesn't happen in "The Bay," because the horror starts early and continues at a rapid pace until the end. Some viewers might even find that it moves a little too quickly. Within the first twenty minutes of the film, the weird nature occurrences end, and the film becomes a straight-up zombie film.

One of the best things about this film is that it doesn't focus on one specific camera. Levinson uses Donohue as the narrator, but he lets other characters take center stage by using a variety of other cameras. The film increases its documentary feel by showing a character using his cellphone camera to capture footage on the beach and a convenience store surveillance camera catching infected people in the parking lot.

The found-footage genre often overuses a small group of characters, showing how those people survive from the beginning to the end. Levinson apparently learned from "Rec" and other films that viewers want more from a horror film. While "The Bay" does focus on a few characters, it keeps viewers on their toes by completely eliminating characters throughout the film. Then there are the people who appear early in the film only to disappear for a good portion of the run time, and there are characters who pop up only for a few minutes. Just as viewers begin to care about those characters, Levinson wipes them out in truly disgusting ways.

Levinson doesn't shy away from blood and guts either, creating just enough disturbing scenes that viewers will have something to talk about around the water cooler. The director also manages to interject a sense of realism to the film that increases the horror. From the opening scenes of children frolicking on the beach to the scenes of gruesome characters crawling across the shore, he puts his own touch on the horror genre. With the combination of goriness, unusual creatures, and a plausible plot, "The Bay" will keep horror and non-horror fans entertained.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars