Something very bad is happening in the Chesapeake Bay but nobody is taking any notice. Particularly not the Mayor of Claridge, Maryland, whose genteel coastal town is about to hold its annual Independence Day celebrations. And maybe he’s got more personal reasons for looking the other way. But Claridge’s Independence Day is about to be rudely interrupted by a monstrous plague that spreads, at terrifying speed, from out of the Chesapeake water and into the town’s unsuspecting residents, infecting them with gruesome sores that are only the first symptom of something much more vicious that is rapidly incubating and waiting to escape from beneath their flesh. Within hours, Claridge will be decimated and all communication with the outside world will be lost.

And the authorities, not least the Centre for Disease Control, would like it stay that way.

Were it not for a renegade journalist who painstakingly reassembles the events of that day via an ingenious use of found footage, the harrowing events of The Bay would never be known. But is Barry Levinson’s The Bay a potently evocative slice of horror hokum or a terrifyingly accurate prediction of an ecological nightmare that is still to come?imagesCAJJBM5B

Which is exactly why Levinson’s new movie The Bay works so well, because it depicts a story about ecological disaster that could easily be all too real, and that scarily plausible sense of reality is beautifully enhanced and supported by the cleverest use of found-footage that I’ve ever seen. Ordinarily, nothing turns me off a movie faster than the found-footage conceit. However, Barry Levinson has used the found-footage convention so well, and employed so many disparate types of found-footage in stitching together the patchwork of his story (including local news reports, Oceanographers video, Skype, mobile phone video and police car CCTV) that The Bay never becomes repetitive and, if I hadn’t known better, I could easily have been convinced I was watching a 60 Minutes-style documentary and not an electrifyingly tense, flesh-crawlingly effective work of fiction.

The Bay’s realism is further enhanced by the smart casting of not-too-familiar actors (Kether Donohue, most recently seen in ‘Pitch Perfect’, is particularly excellent) and sparingly used creature effects that are so nastily convincing it’s hard to believe they’re actually ‘effects’ at all. And, even though the story is told almost completely in documentary-style overview with very little opportunity to focus on, or empathise with, any one particular set of characters, the pace never slackens, the narrative never becomes muddled and the atmosphere never loses tension.

As far as I’m aware, Barry Levinson’s last foray into the murky waters of science-fantasy resulted in ‘Sphere’, a starrily-cast but ultimately meandering sleepfest from 1998. And that The Bay is produced by the same team who made ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Insidious’ didn’t give me high expectations either.

But I’m very glad I put my reservations aside and dipped my toe into The Bay, even if Levinson’s cautionary horror tale is still keeping me awake at nights, and I might never go swimming in – or even drink – water ever again.

Immerse yourself in the terror of The Bay. But do it from a cinema seat, and preferably on dry land.

EXTRAS: Director’s audio commentary, featurette

 

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white