The Bay Barry Levinson

The Bay Barry Levinson
8
On the commentary track and sole "making of" supplement included with DVD of The Bay, director Barry Levinson discusses departing from his typical style to make an exaggerated pseudo-doc based upon environmental concerns in the Chesapeake Bay. Originally, Levinson was going to shoot a doc about the issue, highlighting the "dead zone" where too little oxygen is dissolved in the water for fish and other marine life to survive. Nutrient runoff, mercury, Viagra and chicken manure laced with growth hormones are just some of the contaminants found in the bay, which is mentioned early on in this found-footage horror film. But, noting the limited audience and human reaction to eco-docs — people tend not to care about things that don't directly affect them, unless they think others are watching and judging — Levinson decided to embellish the material and construct an urgent metaphor. He took the reported skin infections and rashes and turned them into rapid body decay exacerbated by giant isopods eating people from the inside. Using the framing device of a web-cast from a news television intern that reported on the Fourth of July festivities in Claridge when the crisis occurred, The Bay mixes surveillance footage, web-cams, cellphone cameras and home video footage to generate a visceral sense of legitimacy. A young mother and a doctor pop up to give a connective character thread to the disaster, but the film, for the most part, is a focused hodgepodge of authentic footage highlighting the many horrors unfolding in a single day. When an entire town — too busy indulging in pie-eating contests and booze to care about urgent ecological news warnings — simultaneously develops severe, rapidly spreading lesions, chaos unfolds, leaving dead bodies in the streets and a small emergency room packed beyond capacity. Levinson handles this chaos well, jumping from conversations with the Disease Control Center to cellphone footage of individual reactions to, and discoveries of, the horror. There's a palpable sense of tension and urgency that propels the film from beginning to end, making this ostensible didactic compelling entertainment. We feel in the moment and appreciate the variety of reactions to an unfathomable event. Whether or not The Bay effectively communicates the very real issues in the Chesapeake Bay by imposing metaphoric panic onto traditionally aloof audiences is debatable. But as a tightly edited exercise in authentic scares and convincing horror, this mostly overlooked allegory succeeds. At the very least, it will make people think twice before ordering a bucket of chicken from KFC. (Alliance)