Friday, November 23, 2012

A Bad Case Of Crabs: Barry Levinson's THE BAY

When you think of the found-footage horror genre, a name like Barry Levinson doesn’t usually spring to mind. After all, what possible interest could the Oscar-winning director behind Rain Man and Good Morning Vietnam have in the format? But the Baltimore-based filmmaker has an ecological agenda to explore in The Bay (produced by Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli), which raises real concerns about the effects of pollution in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. It does so through the device of a terror flick about murderous, mutated crustaceans, but anything that helps to get the word out will do, I suppose.
The Bay recounts the events of one serious bummer of a Fourth Of July celebration, as seen through the lenses of various video devices utilized by the citizens of Claridge, Maryland. Variously, we follow the action through footage taken by a local news crew, police surveillance cameras, a young girl’s FaceTime conversation, and more. Right around the time of the big crab-eating competition, a mysterious plague seems to sweep through the entire town, afflicting the locals with horrifying boils and causing them to spit up blood. As the emergency room fills up with frantic, seemingly diseased townspeople, we hear tell of a pair of ecology-minded scuba divers whose bodies were recently discovered floating in the Bay. The duo was chewed up as though a bull shark had gotten at them, but as we learn more and more about the town’s corrupt Mayor and the variety of pollutants being dumped into the Bay—chicken crap from the local poultry mill, waste from a nearby nuclear plant—it becomes apparent that something nastier is taking place. We are told that the Bay is now 40 % lifeless (a true statistic, as it turns out), and what life does still exist there is being preyed upon by isopods—normally tiny crustacean lifeforms that have been growing to unusual size thanks to pollution. The entire water supply of Claridge has been tainted with isopod larvae, and both the marine life and the townspeople are being eaten alive from the inside-out by the nasty bugs…who have a particular taste for tongues.
With its Fourth Of July setting, corrupt city officials, and what appears at first to be a flesh-eating virus, The Bay sometimes feels like Jaws meets Cabin Fever. It takes awhile for the real threat to emerge, and at times it seems like the film is piling on too many potential explanations for the chaos. A good deal of the action is documented by a young intern from the local TV station (Kether Donohue), and her running commentary—particularly with regards to the impending arrival by boat of an unsuspecting young couple and their baby—is a bit silly. There’s also never really any explanation why some people remain unaffected by the isopod massacre, considering that nearly the entire town is wiped out by it. That said, the idea of oversized bugs munching their way out of your body is pretty horrific, and the many scenes of bloody, tongueless townspeople are suitably disgusting. CGI bugs are exactly the kind of special effects that don’t usually translate well to the found-footage format, but the ones seen here are used sparingly and effectively. You probably won’t go to bed afraid that isopods are going to get you after watching The Bay, but you’ll probably want to skip the crab legs next time you eat seafood.

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