Monday, 25 March 2013

The Bay (2012)

Image: Entertainment One

I've had my eye on this film ever since I saw the trailer, which seemed to promise a mix of Jaws and Outbreak (both big favourites of mine), differentiated from other films in the same veins through the use of the now very familiar found footage framing device. Now that I've seen the film, I can say that it delivered both less and more than what I was expecting.

The closest formal antecedent which sprung to mind while watching The Bay was Carlo Ledesma’s 2011 Australian horror picture The Tunnel, a found footage horror that was also an early crowd-funding success. That I was reminded of The Tunnel was a good thing – it’s a very taut film which does wonders with atmospheric locations and a low budget – but The Bay does not entirely share its merits. Both films are narrated accounts of horrific events, told through survivor testimony and footage of the events themselves. However, where The Tunnel still maintained an atmosphere of dread through its slow drip feeding of information, The Bay goes for broke in the opening minutes and never makes an effort to hide what is going on. Indeed, my biggest criticism of the film is the lack of tension, with so many separate stories that fail to come together. Some of them are memorable and suitably creepy, such as the desperately documenting doctor and his fruitless exchanges with the CDC, and a couple of teenagers who get more than they bargained for when they swim in an innocuous-looking creek, but other stories fall flat, with a young girl’s FaceTime chats to her friend being a particularly grating low point.

On the plus side, the nature of the horror is satisfyingly icky, and sure to cause a few nightmares. I won’t spoil your viewing pleasure here by saying exactly what is in the water, but there are plenty of body-horror moments that will leave gore fans very happy indeed and non-gore fans grabbing for the nearest bucket. Something else worthy of praise is the ecological angle – the terrible fate of the town is down to pollution of the water supply, something which has been covered up or ignored by The People Upstairs. That the film itself purports to be an illegal revelation of sources gathered by a WikiLeaks-esque site (in a reference that already feels a bit passé, sadly) adds another nice level of social critique. I do question director Barry Levinson’s decision not to present the story in a rather sleeker manner than he does – moments that could be quite exquisitely horrific are muted by the necessarily low quality footage – but the film is certainly more than competently made and this sort of message-horror has been sadly absent in recent years (whatever happened to The Host II?).

Easy jump scares are well married with some genuinely upsetting moments (the quick flashes of both a high street and a hospital full of corpses are notably affecting), and the anti-pollution message is welcome. It might be a tad rough in places, but The Bay is still a thoroughly watchable horror effort with one or two images that will stick with you. Happy swimming!  


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