The Bay (2013)

Before Barry Levinson there was only one Bay I disliked and his name was Michael. Now I can add Levinson’s eco-horror The Bay to my massive list of Bay’s that I don’t really like…

In 2009 the small town of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland was befallen with a horrible tragedy that killed hundreds of people. The reasons were never revealed, covered up by authorities and the evil American government (boooooooo!). But the footage of that day has been found… and released… onto DVD! And you can buy it!

The Bay is a found footage film with a difference. The footage comes from dozens and dozens of different handheld cameras, CCTV tapes, cop-car cameras and phones. These have all been ‘recovered’ by someone (somehow) and stitched together in chronological order (kind of) and then thoroughly edited and narrated by one of the survivors.

The concept is a decent one, for found footage, but it quickly becomes a giant scattershot mess. The Bay is narrated / introduced by amateur-reporter Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), who survived the incident. This revelation ensures any found footage scenes involving Donna are utterly without tension – there’s no threat. She survives, remember?!

Unfortunately Donna’s needless narration is also intrusive and full of spoilers. She literally introduces characters and says ‘he dies later’. Brilliant. Thanks for that.

So we then witness the mystery of Chesapeake Bay unravel before us. What we knew before is that something in the water killed hundreds of residents… and then we watch it happen. Over and over again. With the narrator telling us who lives and dies in advance.

The major problem with The Bay is the lack of focus. One minute we’re in a police car, the next a funfair, then a boardwalk, then a boat, then we’re watching Donna Thompson bumble her way through her job as the world’s worst TV journalist.

We never remain with one character for long enough to care about them before being swept away into some other situation we neither care about nor find remotely intriguing. This is such a shame because Stephen Kunken’s doctor character is immensely watchable and I spent the entire movie wanting to watch him. Frustrating stuff.

Michael Wallach’s script blows its load waaaaaaaay to early, revealing everything far too soon. Once you know it’s an infection, the details don’t really matter. Yes, there is the occasional shocking moment, but that adds nothing to the story.

Wallach’s script focuses far too much on the science. It’s like if you spent the entirely of The Crazies with a couple of scientists trying to work out where the ‘crazy infection’ came from. It’s just dull.

The Bay makes numerous sloppy mistakes in its ‘found footage’, with ridiculous angles, sudden close-ups from static cameras and a lot of creative editing.

Yes, you can persuade yourself that the people who ‘found’ the footage wanted to creatively edit the footage to create the most… what?… exciting version of the events? Unfortunately this makes the editors / people who found the footage a tad heartless and ironically worse than those trying to hide it – they glamorize it!

Obviously the footage ISN’T real but the illusion that it was’ found’ is frequently challenged and shattered by laziness and a careless disregard of the audience’s intelligence.

What’s genuinely frustrating is that The Bay could’ve been excellent. Or at least not as disappointingly dull as it turned out to be. If they scrapped the spoiler-filled narration and focused on a select few characters they could’ve retained all the additional footage (some of which is ace) and truly given us characters to root for…

… instead we’re left with nothing to care about. Infection kills a lot of people. We know who dies in advance. Annoying journalist lives. The end. And that’s not a spoiler – that’s in the first ten minutes of the film!!

The Bay is a distinctly flawed piece from an excellent director. Barry Levinson has fallen from grace recently with titles like What Just happened, Man of the Year and Envy, leaving me wondering if he can ever get back to his days of genius. The Bay is just another misstep in a flagging career… and it’s such a shame.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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