Halloween Horrors 2013 : “The Bay”

Posted: October 9, 2013 in movies
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Some folks maintain that the “found footage” horror subgenre got started in earnest with The Blair Witch Project. Others insist that it was really Cloverfield that got the ball rolling in any kind of sustained fashion. And the truly smart people, who know their horror history, credit Ruggero Deodato’s seminal Cannibal Holocaust with being well out front as far as all this goes and predating even Blair Witch  by a couple of decades.

Those people are right, of course — and the simple fact is that Cannibal Holocaust still remains, to this day, far and away the best “hand-held horror” ever made. Nothing really even comes close. But that’s not what we’re to talk about today, is it?

Nope. What we’re here to talk about is something we can actually all agree on. Let’s face it : no matter which of these pseudo-“real” films one considers the progenitor of the line, and no matter which of them one considers to be the “top dog” of the bunch, there’s no denying that the whole thing’s been done absolutely to death  by now. Honestly, people. Give it a fucking rest.

Unless you’re Barry Levinson. I’ll be honest : I have no idea what motivated the Oscar-winning director of Rain Man to throw his hat into this particular played-out ring, but in late 2012 he quietly unleashed (under the air-quote executive production of one-man-horror-industry-unto-himself Oren Peli) a truly grisly and unsettling little number called The Bay, which I just caught the other night on Netflix instant streaming, that shows that in the right hands, even the most cashed dime bag still has enough shake at the bottom and clinging to the sides to get you good and high in a pinch.

A forced metaphor? Perhaps, but it still applies : after all, The Bay feels like old hat from the start : we’ve tasted these wares before and had our fill. But there’s just enough here to remind us why we kinda liked these flicks in the first place.

the-bay-film

Anyway, the story goes that in 2009 the fictional town of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland — situated right on, apparently, the real Chesapeake Bay — was holding their annual 4th of July extravanganza when, outta the blue, everybody got sick. Then they started getting blisters and boils and other nasty sores. Then they started dying. And then slimy little aquatic crustaceans started crawling out of their skin. And sometimes those last two items were reversed.

In any case, if you’re suspecting “environmental thriller” here, you’d be right — but for a film that lays the responsibility for this mess on the greedy poultry-processing industry that’s dumping literally tons and tons of chicken shit into the titular Bay every year, it never feels preachy, and instead concerns itself more with amping up the suspense and , yes, even terror with every newly-unfolding plot revelation. First we think it’s some viral outbreak. Then we learn about a “small” nuclear plant leak and suspect radiation. Then we combine that with enough chicken excrement to choke the entire Atlantic and a desalination plant that isn’t doing too effective a job and learn about a tiny little parasitic isopod that’s been growing larger and more aggressive feeding off the irradiated bird turds and suddenly — well, the implications are as gross and unsettling as their pretty-goddamn-authentic-looking on-screen realization.

Simply put, The Bay ends up being a surprisingly effective little puke-a-thon even if, by rights, it doesn’t deserve to be.

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The no-name cast (so I won’t name them — it’s not like characterization was that high on Levinson’s priority list here, anyway, nor did it need to be for the film to work) all do unfiormly competent if unspectacular work, the “hey, that nasty government of ours covered the whole thing up — but it may have been too late to prevent it from spreading anyway” conclusion is well-executed if agonizingly predictable, and the story’s underlying, layered premise is just believable enough to keep you hooked. Nobody’s re-writing the book here by any means, but they’re relating it with enough style and flair to make it still seem both relevant and effective. Plus, the effects work is solid enough to provide the kind of “nasty good” we all enjoy.

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I’d be lying if I said The Bay came anywhere near to approaching “classic” status. But it’s more than enough to demonstrate what a capable chef can do with even the most tired leftovers.

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