Writer/director Barry Levinson’s mark on the history of film is an indelible one. Where directors such as Spielberg, Scorsese, Stone and Malick continue to make headlines with every project they find themselves glancing at, Levinson has quietly amassed a stellar resume of films that have given us some of our favorite moments on film of the past 30 years.
Levinson was the man behind such features as The Natural (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Rain Man (1988), Bugsy (1991) and Wag the Dog (1997). Not even the most casual of film fans can breeze through Levinson’s scope of work without acknowledgement of his film’s breadth. Levinson has done sports dramas (The Natural), real-life docudramas (Bugsy), period comedies (Diner) and even films set in the backdrop of war (Good Morning, Vietnam). But with The Bay, showcasing with a World Premiere event at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Levinson tries his hand at a new format/genre – a found footage film.
Not just any kind of found footage film, but a creature feature found footage film (say that 5 times fast). But whereas a found footage film such as Cloverfield took the idea of a Godzilla sized creature destroying New York City, Levinson takes a much different approach with The Bay. First, the story itself is a plausible one. A deadly plague where a parasite eats its way into a human host (only to hatch into something even more indescribable) is not that unbelievable. Second, Levinson takes away the one-camera idea that most found footage films apply. Instead, Levinson uses a host of multiple media sources to bring his story full circle. Twenty nine media sources to be exact. Skype, television coverage, webcams, video diaries and security cameras are all used to help capture multiple characters dealing with the same problem.
And the ‘problem’ is a frightening one. Levinson has done a horror/thriller film before (Sphere 2002), but with The Bay, he has perfected a gimmick that has all but run its course. The small town of Claridge is under attack by a parasite that has its origins in the town’s water source – the bay. The parasites infect the body and attack the organs from the inside. They specifically like tongues, but livers, lungs, everything is on the menu.
The outbreak occurs during July 4th celebrations and within 24 hours, the streets are lined with dead bodies still being eaten by the mutated parasites. People begin showing symptoms starting with boils that rash all parts of the body. Hospitals are overrun and the CDC (Centre for Disease Control ) are notified and try to piece together the information via Skype calls to one of the attending doctors. Most of the chaos is captured by a student reporter who we learn in the opening scene has miraculously survived the town’s outbreak.
Much like similar outbreak films of recent years – Outbreak, Contragion- The Bay develops its horror in the realism of a situation that could truly and believably unfold. The Bay writer Michael Wallach informed the screening audience after the film that all the ideas or creatures identified in the film were real. Parts of the eastern seaboard of America are now void of life and run off of chicken dodo laced with the steroids feed to the poultry are being pumped into our local waters with unknown yet possibly terrifying effects. And fish have been found to be full of parasites that eat the tongues of the water dwellers.
Levinson took these realities and created a unique bio-horror that really connects with audiences even though we still have shaky and sometimes out of focus cameras catching the unfolding developments. The film acts as both a thriller and a warning and it is effective in both attempts.
The Bay might not be the scariest movie you will see this year. And it is likely not to make many Best Of 2012 lists either. But I could make a strong argument that anyone that sees the film will have plenty to discuss on the ride or walk home from the theatre. From the realism to the probability to the cover-up, The Bay hits the right notes.