Found footage, no matter your thoughts on it, appears to be here to stay. Horror fans were just recently treated to the latest slice of Paranormal Activity, and both the series and the sub-genre itself are getting a bit stale. Part of the reason for that is we haven’t seen much innovation with the formula. Thankfully, The Bay has some new ideas, and they work too!
Barry Levinson, the director of films like Rain Man and Good Morning, Vietnam, is probably the last person anyone expected to do a found footage horror film. In fact, it surprised Levinson himself, who set out researching a documentary on the Chesapeake Bay and ended up with the idea for an ecological disaster film.
What’s most interesting about The Bay is the setup. The framework is a Skype call between an interviewee and filmmakers creating an exposure piece, a documentary about a disaster that took place in a small town in Maryland and was subsequently completely covered up by our government. The young lady we see on camera is Stephanie, who was in the small town covering the local July 4th celebration as a field reporter for a local TV station when disaster struck in the form of flesh eating creatures from the water. She serves as our narrator, and her explanation of events is covered with footage from various sources, all of which was supposedly confiscated by government officials in the aftermath and is just now seeing the light of day.
The conceit works by subverting upfront many of the problems inherent in found footage. Questions about who found the footage and who edited it together are immediately answered by the framework. In addition, it opens the playing field for a multitude of camera angles and options for ways to shoot and show information. It’s one of many things the film does right.
The film creates an atmosphere of dread and foreboding that pervades each scene and has you on the lookout. This is heightened by long screams, clearly audible and identifiable as human but offscreen and far away, making you brace for what might be coming up next. What most films would do here is pepper jump scares throughout to make use of the atmosphere as quickly as possible, but The Bay is content to pace itself and build the atmosphere of dread to a fever pitch before allowing it to boil over. The result is highly effective.
That’s not to imply that the film has no jump scares, but it is judicious in its use of them. The filmmakers bide their time for the most opportune moment to strike. In the meantime there are plenty of good old fashioned scary scenes that don’t rely on jumps to get a reaction from the audience.
The creatures themselves, some type of isopod that grew at an accelerated rate due to pollutants in the water, are disgusting and sufficiently creepy. Just looking at one is enough to send chills up your spine. This effect is aided by the special effects which are, by and large, quite good. CG appears to have been kept at a minimum, and the blood and gore looks spot on.
While the movie does a lot of things right, the ending just sort of happens. It’s almost as if the filmmakers ran out of time and just kinda said, “yeah we’ll just cut … right … there.” Unfortunately, this leaves plenty of questions hanging and is just not a very satisfying end to a film that had so much promise. Ultimately the good outweighs the bad, and The Bay‘s new spin on the found footage film works very well. Let’s hope it becomes the rule and not the exception.
The Upside: creative approach to the genre, great atmosphere, solid effects
The Downside: the ending is a pitiful whimper when it should have been a punch to the gut
On the Side: the Chesapeake does not appear to be infested with mutant isopods