Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Barry Levinson's "The Bay": It's the chicken shit, stupid!



The Bay, Barry Levinson’s eco-horror production, didn’t play in many theaters, but the Strand Cinema in Georgetown, South Carolina (where most of the filming took place) had a few showings over the weekend.  
Although it was interesting to see all the nearby locations, the film itself didn’t meet my expectations (which weren’t particularly high).
In The Bay, Georgetown stands in for the Chesapeake Bay town of Claridge, where Fourth of July festivities are in high gear.  There’s a blue crab eating contest, a dunk tank, and even a Miss Crustacean contest.  A novice reporter (Kether Donohue) is there to cover the action.  What unfolds is a parade of horrors, as festival-goers stagger around screaming with fast-growing red pustules.  The local hospital begins to fill up and doctors make the horrifying discovery that something is munching on the victims from the inside.
 
The premise is that the reporter puts together an exposé of the cover-up following the disaster, so the whole thing is documented with a plethora of found footage.  This is almost convincing, except for the typical horror movie soundtrack pasted over it to enhance the arthropod terror.
Yes, it’s isopods.  Flogging the eco and minimizing the horror, screenwriter Michael Wallach makes it abundantly clear that pollution, primarily from chicken farm runoff (a real problem around the Chesapeake), has made the fish parasites grow and multiply and decide humans might be tasty too.  Again and again, the audience’s collective nose is rubbed into the explanation, although why the isopods decided to strike on the Fourth or why other organisms weren’t affected by the toxic water are questions that remain unresolved.
Abundant real-life examples of the indignities suffered by the Chesapeake, from leaking nuclear plants to pharmaceuticals in wastewater, are trotted out for display.  But if Levinson wanted to send a message about environmental issues, the silliness of the isopod premise was not the way to go.
   
The biological implausibility helps deflate the public service announcement aspect of the film, and what’s left is oddly dull.  The plot is minimal (people get infected and die) and the characters are so peripheral as to be almost non-existent.
There are a few genuine, if cheap, scary moments as the infected townsfolk pop up suddenly, roll their eyes, or scream, and shots of bodies lying in the quiet streets at night inspire a momentary sense of dread, but there’s not enough horror to go around.  Somehow the squeaking, scuttling isopods aren't very menacing even when they're eating their way out of people.  The real assault on the senses is the shaky found footage camera work, which made me want to vomit harder than the folks in the blue crab eating contest.

I had hoped something more entertaining would come out of The Bay... giant crabs, perhaps?   


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