The Bay ReviewJoe Shaffer
I wasn't sure how I felt about The Bay after first watching it. As a mockumentary and found-footage horror nut, I discovered plenty of questionable material to grumble about and pick apart. For starters, the acting as a whole wasn't as natural as it should have been. Lead actress Kether Donohue delivers a fair portion of her lines without much emotion, and is quite stilted when attempting to act like she's a part of everyday life and not a player in a dramatic narrative. She's also not the only actor who delivers a sigh-worthy performance. For instance, several characters throughout the movie are unaffected by the massive, painful rashes they suffer from, and others seem too relaxed when they're in the middle of an ecological disaster.
It isn't the acting alone that destroys the film's realism, though. For some strange reason, the producers decided that this found-footage movie needed a soundtrack. Ambient music kicks in during key scenes in an attempt to build tension. However, the last thing a found-footage movie needs is dramatic music. Films like this rely on feeling as organic as possible, and that usually means having little to no score at all.
This isn't to say that The Bay is a total wash. After all, not all of the actors are unnatural, and the music isn't a terrible nuisance. Mainly, my complaints revolve around a few isolated faux pas that mar an otherwise solid horror film. For outside of the few missteps The Bay makes, the film is a tense, nasty throwback to the "nature run amok" movies I grew up with as a kid.
This flick begins by developing an idyllic American town, where everyone knows and trusts their neighbors and the citizens have a strong sense of pride in their community. It's touching enough that it might inspire you to care about the town and its citizens. Of course, like any Norman Rockwell-esque community in a horror flick, this one has its share of dark secrets that, unbeknownst to the citizens, will be their greatest downfall. For their staunchest industry is their collection of chicken farms, which are situated next to Chesapeake Bay. Rather than properly dealing with the mountains of steroid-laden chicken excrement that the farms produce, the workers pile it all up next to the bay. From here, I'm sure you can puzzle out what happens next. Let's just say that pollution in horror movies never begets anything benign...
During a Fourth of July celebration, we see frantic citizens running through the streets, panicked at the horrible rashes and boils that cover their skin. Other characters vomit blood and green bile, and eventually fall violently ill. In droves, the citizens pile into the local hospital or gather in the streets and slowly perish, victims of the parasites flourishing in Chesapeake Bay's dead zone.
Its heartrending to watch such a lovable town fall apart. It's even worse to know they all suffered a gruesome fate. In regards to graphic imagery and gore, The Bay doesn't pull its punches. You'll see plenty of crazed citizens spattered with blood or partially mangled, but those are only minor examples. At a few other points, we see dead citizens with their lower jaws missing or with bloody pits where their bellies should be. Those of the living complain of internal pains and a horrible sensation that something is crawling around inside of them. It's enough that you might feel like you need a long, hot shower once the flick is over.
The sharp imagery is necessary, though, in driving home the film's main point: that big agriculture doesn't give a damn about your well being. Local officials and members of the town's industry had an opportunity to prevent this disaster, but chose to do nothing. Basically, The Bay is a grim cautionary tale on what happens when we fail to keep big business in check, and warns of the dangers of big business getting into bed with the government.
It's a pretty bold statement to make, but such a statement doesn't stand as strongly as it should. Mostly, this is due to the aforementioned wooden acting, but it's also the result of some of the film's less impressive scenes. One that sticks out in mind mind involves Donohue's character investigating a fresh pool of blood on a boardwalk. For some stupid reason, she stands over the blood to get a good look at it. Predictably, a fresh crimson cascade pours down from above and sullies her hair. All she can do in response is belt out the cheapest horror movie scream she can muster, which serves only to flip off the film's more intellectual content.
Ultimately, The Bay is still a pretty good mockumentary. It may be ballsy, and it may have feature some solid social commentary, but it still lacks polish. Just the same, I'm glad to see a natural horror movie that at least attempts to take itself seriously and return the sub-genre to its roots. Maybe it's not precisely what the sub-genre needs at the moment, but it's a good start anyway...
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