The Bay (2012) -We have had many movies through the years that look at harm to the environment having adverse effects for us all. In the 1950s there were tons of movies concerning the affects of radiation from bomb testing. Films like "Them (1954)", "Tarantula! (1955)", and "Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)", warned of the effects of the abomb. In the sixties and seventies this continued but as time went on the shift away from the bomb and more towards other pollutants took over as the main theme. In "Day of the Animals (1977)" a thin ozone layer from using too much aerosol turned all the animals of the woods against us. "Prophecy (1979)" explores pollution in the Maine wood with a mutant bear. In the eighties we had "C.H.U.D.(1984)" with mutant people living under the streets of NYC. Recently we had The Happening (2008) where the trees got pissed at us and released a toxin that made humans kill themselves. It is a long and storied past of how human pollution has very dangerous and unforeseen consequences. At its core The Bay is a cautionary tale about not thinking through the consequences of our waste disposal and food production methods.
I know people who saw the film are saying it is a horror movie made in the found footage style that has been so popular as of late. That is true but I still think the message behind it is that we are not paying attention to our impact on the environment. When at some point like in this film it comes back to literally bite us, we have set up a system of government more likely to cover up events than address the underlying systematic problems.
Kether Donohue) an intern for the local television station. She and her cameraman were right in the thick of things when they went down. In present day we see her in a Skype call to a "wikileaks" type organization trying to get the footage that was not confiscated by the Feds out onto the internet. We see her story and the story of others through an overly extensive variety of cameras and microphones around the town that day. In fact this film could really be a statement about just how far public surveillance has gone in the last decade. There is no place you can get away from being recorded, at least from what we see in this found footage film. A tip of the hat to the writer Michael Wallach for coming up with so many sources.
Wallach and Director Barry Levinson do a decent job at finding some compelling stories to follow through the multitude of clips. Although I am not a giant fan of the found footage film there is enough here to keep the viewer interested throughout. Levinson is an established enough director to keep the shots for the most part still. He has directed some very good films including Diner (1982), The Natural (1984), Rain Man (1988), and Wag the Dog (1997) so we know he is capable of doing it well. Why he is slumming on a cheap monster movie makes one wonder what happened to his career. The editing by Aaron Yanes is sharp enough that the pace is solid. It plays a more important role when it is a found footage film and so some credit is due here.
The primary problem with the premise these gentlemen have presented us with is that everything is too complete. If the Federal Government came in to confiscate material they sure missed the 90 minutes or so of this film. There is enough material in the footage we see to know that the people in charge of the cover up have done a lousy job of it. Then also there is the gaping hole of all the people on cell phones throughout the day, talking to relatives in other towns and states. How do you keep those people quiet. I would contend that considering the extremes of what happened that day in the modern world it would be impossible to cover it up. Then the logic of why cover up such a tragedy. Sure it would be a costly to a particular industry to have these events get out but damn you would think that knowing the effects of their dumping would be a lesson for all in the field. Then there are the "too good" captured images and sound, the police car camera that not only pans in on an upstairs window but also seems to zoom in. Sure you could make the argument that Donna put the images together and made the narrative coherent but it all is a bit too clean. That said lets suspend disbelief and focus on the personal stories told in the film.
First you have Miss Thompson doing her first field reporting and struggling with her confidence. When rashes start breaking out on the town folk she is on the front lines of an epidemic never seen before. She and her cameraman move around the town reporting. She captures the mood and then the chaos as the problem grows. We get to know her through her reports and her narration of the film so she ends up a character we can connect to who runs through the entire film.
When people are rushed to the hospital or show up on their own with rashes and aching. We see through Skype conversations between the doctor Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken) in town and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta we watch the professional Don Donaldson (David Andalman) and his crew try to solve what looks like a mass bacterial outbreak. Problem is that too many people are flooding in while the professionals have no answers. Soon they give us most of the story of isopods and steroids from the chicken plant but it takes awhile and through it all is a compelling story of a community suddenly overwhelmed with a horror they did not foresee.
The other personal story is of the Stephanie (Kristen Connolly) and Alex (Will Rogers) with their infant child heading to Claridge from a nearby town via boat. Alex swims in the bay which is a real sad thing for him. Their home movie video is personal and touching as we already know what is happening and what will happen to Alex. On one hand we need to see them arrive in town so we can see the carnage of the infestation but on the other they are a really nice couple and the end for them can not be good.
In the end this is a pretty enjoyable movie, and although I have been saying this a lot lately. It really did not need to be a found footage film. In fact the story was good enough that a straight up scene by scene telling would have worked better. Still give the people who worked on this credit. They made it bearable with lots of stationary cameras and did not force us through a shaky camera hell as some other films in this genre have. The message of having to pay attention to our impact on the environment can not be put into the either enough so that is also a plus in my book.
Rating (6.1) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.