Before it even begins, Barry Levinson’s eco-horror has three strikes against it.
The found-footage genre is arguably on its last legs, eco-disaster movies are usually terrible and Levinson hasn’t made a decent fiction film for 10 years.
That The Bay overcomes all three of these, however awkwardly, is part of its strange appeal, even if the rest is mostly novelty. On 4 July 2009, the residents of Claridge, Maryland - an Amity-esque tourist town on Chesapeake Bay - start reacting badly (puking blood, popping boils, the whole Biblical shebang) to something in the water.
After a government cover-up, former cub reporter donna thompson (Kether Konohue) compiles all the “confiscated digi” - CCTV footage, blogs, video diaries - to get the truth of what really happened out there on the internet. (“I don’t know if anyone is going to be watching this,” she begins, “but i can’t move on with my life.”)
Showing an entire community disintegrating from multiple perspectives mimics the banal blanket coverage of 24-hour news. The use of unknown actors, sparing special effects and organic jump-shocks, meanwhile, imparts a genuine sense of real-world hysteria.
Donna’s narration may be absolutely terrible (“Why didn’t anyone tell me my pants are too tight?” she moans), as is the (her?) music. But the film is smart enough to suggest this is on purpose - that we’re watching a documentary made by a self-confessedly terrible journalist from her own awesome footage.
The problem for casual viewers is the format offers neither the first-hand thrills of a Cloverfield -style fight-or-flight flick, nor the “objective” distance of a more conventional fake documentary.
Stuck in the hinterland between engrossing and entertaining, The Bay represents a modest return to form for its director, but only an interesting footnote for its genre.