Title: The Bay
Director: Barry Levinson
Starring: Kether Donohue, Kristen Connolly, Anthony Reynolds, Andy Stahl, Jody Thompson, Stephen Kunken, Frank Deal, Will Rogers
Typically a found footage film means one person just happens to be recording during a phenomenon and just so happens to be committed enough to risk his or her life to keep recording in order to tell the story from beginning to end in a format that just so happens to match a standard screenplay structure. Kudos to director Barry Levinson and writer Michael Wallach for making a movie that actually attempts to compile a more realistic version of found footage, but, in the end, doing so at the expense of a proper narrative and engaging characters just isn’t worth it.
Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) is a college student interning at a local TV station who’s getting her first big gig – covering the Independence Day festivities in Claridge, Maryland. Conveniently located along the Chesapeake Bay, the day is packed with water-related events – swimming, a crab eating contest, a dunk tank and more. Too bad none of the Claridge officials properly investigated the recent case of two dead oceanographers. Otherwise they might have realized a parasitic outbreak was brewing in their pristine bay.
The story is framed just as you might expect – three years after the nightmare, Donna finally gets ahold of the footage from July 4, 2009 and opts to stitch it together, creating a found footage film. Donohue’s a fine actress, but it’s a tough sell as Levinson merely has 2012 Donna preaching to a computer camera, Skype-style in an empty room. But what makes it even tougher to connect to Donna is the fact that “The Bay” isn’t even her story. Donna commands a good portion of the film’s first act, but then we move into a montage of Donna’s 2009 footage as well as snippets from a number of other perspectives.
We’ve got Donna’s news footage, security camera footage from all over town, the videos shot by the oceanographers, police car footage, the material shot by Dr. Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken), the home video made by Stephanie (Kristen Connolly) and her husband, and more. Yes, the variety gives us a well-rounded view of the disaster, but it also reduces each and every character to a mere face in the crowd. Stephanie gets some sympathy because she’s got a baby, Officer Jimson and Officer Paul (Michael Beasley and Jody Thompson) are memorable courtesy of a particularly disturbing house call and the doctor makes an impact due to his dedication, but none have an arc and ultimately, their stories go nowhere.
And that’s “The Bay’s” biggest problem. You suffer through 85 minutes of horrifying accounts and then are left wondering, what was the point? “The Bay” is quite successful at convincing you never to step foot in the water again, let alone drink any, but unlike “Contagion,” it’s done without a compelling story and unlike the large majority of Jason Blum’s films, it’s a scare that isn’t really enjoyable. It’s disturbing to the point of being rather upsetting.
However, that’s not to say “The Bay” is a bad film. In fact, the use of the found footage format is quite impressive. Had Wallach given us even just one solid through line, a character to take us through the experience, but with more of an emotional connection than Donna offers, “The Bay” could have been the fresher take on found footage we’ve all been waiting for. And even while it doesn’t achieve that, the movie still does prove the subgenre still has room to grow. Should a writer figure out how to piece together bits from iPhones, news cameras, security cameras, and more, in a sound way with at least hints of having a proper structure, we could have an incredibly comprehensive new breed of storytelling.
But unfortunately, that’s not the case with “The Bay.” The filmmakers are disturbingly successful at giving you the creeps and also something to think about, but as far as entertainment value goes, the format makes the story one-dimensional, making you feel as though you were force-fed the material rather than having experienced the events alongside the characters.