The Bay (Barry Levinson, 2012)
Barry Levinson’s interesting ideas about camerawork in the first couple of seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street set many of the conventions for what we now know as the shakycam/found-footage subgenre of horror film. They were divisive back then, as well; a lot of folks (including every significant other I have had since 1994) find the crazy jump cuts and odd, inappropriate close-ups annoying. But for the rest of us, it made those old Homicide episodes more immediate, more you-were-thereish in a way nothing else could. I wasn’t alone in this; after The Blair Witch Project in 1999, shakycam took off as a subgenre, and Richard Belzer’s Homicide character, John Munch, lives on on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. So at least Dick Wolf and Eduardo Sánchez agreed with me.
And now Levinson, in the first sci-fi film of his career, turns his attention for the first time to the genre he effectively owns, but has never claimed ownership of. When it comes right down to it, Levinson, who directed his first feature film thirty years ago, has more experience behind a camera than anyone else who’s ever directed a shakycam mockumentary combined. And it shows. I grant you, horror—the feeling of your guts being stirred with a stick-style horror—is an intensely personal thing, and no harm no foul if your mileage varies on this one. But if Levinson’s infection mechanism here is the kind of thing that squicks you out, this movie is going to do more to keep you out of the ocean than Jaws AND all its interminable sequels.
The movie is offered as, basically, a commentary track over found footage. The commentary is being delivered by
Donna Thompson (Boy Wonder‘s Kether Donohue), who at the time of the events presented was a college student doing an internship for a local TV station. She’d been assigned to cover the July 4 festivities in the lovely (and fictional) little town of Claridge, MD, and was the only person there in a media capacity—who still covered July 4 festivities in 2009 unless they were unpaid college interns, right? But something went very, very wrong in Claridge, and by July 5, the government had confiscated every piece of film and DV, shut down every website that dealt with the contributing factors to the incident, etc. Now a rogue website (think wikileaks here) has leaked it all, and has asked Thompson to fill in some of the blanks.
It doesn’t sound all that interesting, and it certainly doesn’t sound scary. But I can’t get into the details without going all spoilery on you, and I’m not going to do that, even if the trailer does; I may have already said too much in the second paragraph. (I apologize to those I talked about this movie to before I actually saw it—I didn’t realize how spoilery the trailer was and went around calling it “Barry Levinson’s Killer ________ Movie” for months after seeing the first trailer.) But even if I can’t talk about the mode of infection, I can certainly tell you about the aftereffects, which involve a hospital full of screaming, dying people, and, well, you know what happens to dying people when time passes.
Levinson, being the effective bastard that he is, also throws in a crude-but-way-too-effective technique: giving us footage from some out-of-towners who are headed for Claridge to meet up with the wife’s parents and see the fireworks. This is blatant emotional manipulation, but it’s so well-executed that I didn’t care one bit.
I will also note for the record that one shot during the climax provided me (and a lot of other people in a sold-out 450-seat theater) the first time I jumped in a cinema seat and yelped aloud since my high school days. All those reaction shots you see in “indie” trailers for the Paranormal Activity movies? Yeah, I saw that in real life. Crude, but effective.
The Bay opens in selected cities on November 2. It is just as good as Barry Levinson’s name on it would lead you to believe. *** ½