At the moment, the found-footage sub-genre is all the rage. No surprise there, considering audiences are still running in droves to see the Paranormal Activity films and most recently, The Devil Inside (much to our dismay). I have no issue with any novelty if it’s used effectively and creatively. The Paranormal Activity franchise, the REC series and V/H/S are great examples of when it works. Unlikely candidate, Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man) is the latest to jump on the bandwagon with the eco-thriller, The Bay.
The film revolves around a small seaside town that becomes terrorized by a nasty mutant breed of parasites. What makes the film stand apart from the crowd is its mock documentary-style approach. The story is told via multiple video sources including Skype, surveillance video, news footage, smart phones and police cams. Audio sources such as 911 calls and recorded phone conversations are also utilized. The sheer density of the film’s construction is my favourite aspect of The Bay. It’s been cleverly thought out and conceived. The biggest challenge facing filmmakers venturing in the found footage realm is how to convincingly justify why the characters are still holding onto their cameras. For the most part, The Bay is pretty convincing in this department. I never found myself distracted by a glaringly obvious logic gap.
Despite being presented in realistic manner, deep at its core, The Bay owes a great deal to 1950’s era sci-fi/horror pictures such as Them! There’s definitely an old-fashioned B-movie quality to the creatures. Issues begin to arise whenever the film tries its hand at scares. This is where Levinson’s inexperience in genre filmmaking is glaringly obvious. Every attempt at a scare is highlighted by a music cue and sound effect being amped up to eleven. The score is annoyingly present at almost every turn. It’s overbearing and cheaply manipulative especially during the “suspenseful” moments. These techniques ring false at every time. Mostly though, I never found myself invested in The Bay all that much. Dryness is one of the issues that can arise when presenting the material in such a documentary-like fashion and it plagues this movie all throughout. Characters aren’t particularly interesting and the story never really goes in any fresh or surprising direction.
One has to applaud Levinson for stepping out of his comfort zone. The Bay never comes across as a half-baked effort. His use of technology to tell the story, as well as themes dealing with our deteriorating environment will likely strike a chord with many. There seems to be a genuine attempt to breathe new life in the gimmicky world of found footage cinema. Unfortunately what brings the movie down is his novice approach at horror tactics such as jump scares and tension-building. While it may work on the average folk who have never seen a horror film in their life, it won’t fool a hardcore fan by a long shot. The Bay is an admirable but ultimately dull thriller.
P.S. Considering its uncinematic aesthetic, I think this film may actually play more effectively on the small screen. Might be an experiment worth revisiting.