Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Bay (2012) Movie Thoughts

Talk about one of the great career hard lefts of all time...

If you had told me that longtime lauded filmmaker, Barry Levinson would take the often youthful path of taking on the horror genre. Crazier still, that he would take on the verite horror movement to weave a tale of human borne ecological wrath! Enter the tale of Claridge, Maryland. Your classic bay side Americana town where the community's annual 4th of July festivities are about to be marred by a long gestating terror in the local waters. Through the eyes of numerous parties and individuals, the day's descent into environmental disaster is compiled into what is mostly an effective little fright machine with more than a few nasty things to say about a cam-centric America. One of the biggest surprises of The Bay, is in how it incorporates numerous forms of video media in the form of an underground expose of the events compiled in an almost television special format. In a sense, it takes the thrust of Josh Trank's entry, Chronicle, and hits matters on hyperdrive by mixing "found" footage from numerous sources, sprinkled with ominous information seeded from both the scientific and activist community, aware that something was amiss long before things went haywire.

We are given a primary face in the confessional video from a local university intern who was on site that morning. Young Donna Thompson's (Kether Donohue) words are our main thread as we weave in between her commenting on the compiled footage, as well as clips of herself quickly being thrust from would-be event reporter to the unwitting face of Claridge as it is turned inside out by an unspeakable invasion likely brought about by political neglect. Early on, she begins to take events on as if they are of a more domestic nature. But it isn't long before the symptoms of illness set up shop, and the bodies begin to pile up, rendering this beyond anything the town could ever hope to handle. With hindsight, her looking back at all that had transpired that day offers up something that the film's footage isn't so ready to do, which is to offer a faux documentary sheen over matters which is welcome in some respects, and unnecessary in others.

And from Donna's confessions, the film also grants us several more perspectives..From the local mayor who may very well be the most to blame for this fiasco, to a pair of oceanographic researchers who might have figured out the threat weeks before, and ultimately a couple of young professionals venturing on a boat to Claridge to see the wife's family-- with a newborn infant in tow. Also caught amongst the growing chaos, are the local law enforcement, a fifteen year old girl using iPhone's FaceTime app to detail her infection's progress, a lone doctor at the town's now infection- swarmed hospital, and even a bewildered team at the CDC. There is a great amount of effective interweaving of images, soundbites, and authenticity on hand as the problems star off on a level that never feels too far from realms of possibility. But when the film finally reveals the core "antagonists", it all does eventually become another horror piece. And while that might seem like cause for concern, Levinson does come up with just enough mood here to leave viewers with the squirms for days.

You'll never look the same way into a fish while cleaning one again..

The most chilling prospect that the film espouses is in regards to the increasingly wired world of cameras and internet video, where the greatest irony lies in just how much more distant we have become in reaction to all of it. If there are any places where contention comes up, this is it. And while one can indeed make the oft-made argument that a wired world, is a more divided, and often disconnected one, there comes a certain point where it all feels a bit forced for the sake of the theme. This all comes to a head of course, when we finally receive word from government officials which is meant to be the film's greatest condemnation. And it comes in such a "too little, too late" fashion, that one might almost be tempted to quote the mayor from Jaws, albeit after the fact. And yet despite all this, there are some pretty effectively eerie moments in the midsection that less involve what the cameras see, and rather what they do not, leaving our imaginations to run wild, which is always a plus. 

The film even takes several potshots at the camera-centric world to be far more interested in celebrity than in the overall right to be informed. Characters complain back and forth about how their latest take looks or sounds,  as if there is some hidden opportunity for notoriety despite the horrific events surrounding them. And even younger people are not spared as they are heard mentioning the possibility of becoming a Facebook celeb. Image is everything, and the events somehow become far less important. Even as the composure of many throughout is largely frayed into tatters, there is an undeniable venom being poised at the idea that the public is far better alert and informed due to greater amounts of bandwidth, and video capacity. The movie intentionally wields the language of contemporary reality television and net culture to display a world far more cut off than ever, and increasingly murky with each pass deeper into darkness. Awash in american flags, and a vision of Levinson's former bastions of nostalgia now rendered into labyrinths of isolated terror.

The only issue one can surmise from all this information, is that as a phoney guerilla-style PSA, Levinson's The Bay is a mostly hammy affair buoyed by some scares, but is often hampered by its own need to scare "with purpose". So when it employs all the methods at hand, including mostly silly mood score, the package as a whole feels like a kitchen sink reel, when it probably should have been a fly-on-the-wall one. In all, a unique turn for a filmmaker once known for revering a culture's past, now eager to plunge into its ever increasingly murky heart..

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