blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Bay (2012, Barry Levinson)

Most of The Bay is tolerably tedious and mediocre. Levinson’s doing a found footage documentary—he may also provide the voice of filmmaker—about a bunch of sea cockroaches eating its way through a little Maryland town. It plays like a combination low rent Michael Crichton adaptation—the action skips to various government agencies and their internal camera systems—and a lower rent Jaws. Or more accurately Piranha.

There’s one problem so significant they can’t succeed with it—they’re going to need a bigger boat—that problem is narrator and occasional protagonist Kether Donohue.

So three years after Homeland Security covers up a bunch of mutant sea lice eating hundreds of people in a vacation town on the Fourth of July, Donohue and an unseen documentarian (voice by Levinson I think) get together to have Donohue narrate all the video footage from the incident.

They’re able to get it because screenwriter Michael Wallach and Levinson’s target audience is people who don’t understand how WikiLeaks worked; the in-movie WikiLeaks, Wiki-whatever, gets all the footage and so then Levinson assembles like a horror movie and has Donohue record narration.

The problem is Donohue’s terrible at the narration, terrible at the speaking directly to the camera. She ends up ruining the movie in the end, but for a steady clip during the second act she’s barely narrating and it’s… tolerable.

Though it helps some of the cast can act even with the found footage thing going on. Levinson mixes all sorts of formats without much thought, though I suppose putting too much work into realizing Wallach’s insipid screenplay might have been hard to get excited about. The movie's target audience is also people who don’t understand how 24-hour clocks work. In addition to technology and probably protein in chicken shit. The film’s got a strong environmental message about pollution but it’s also very bad and very silly at times so it’s impossible to take it very seriously.

If it weren’t for Donohue—and if the acting from government officials weren’t so terrible—The Bay probably would be okay. It wouldn’t be good because Levinson’s got zero touch for the found footage thing and no apparent ear for “real” dialogue, but it wouldn’t be as bad.

Stephen Kunken’s okay as the doctor—it’s obvious The Bay does not care about verisimilitude when they don’t even bother finding out what Kunken’s position at an ER would be called. He’s something like the attending personal physician for waiting room patients. It must have been hard to watch this one as a personal friend of Levinson and have to talk to him about it.

Frank Deal’s terrible as the mayor, who’s got that factory farmed chicken money in his corrupt pockets and calls in the National Guard without anyone knowing to keep the outbreak isolated.

Christopher Denham and Nansi Aluka are okay as the oceanographers who get a very important flashback subplot threaded throughout the micro-monster movie so it’ll have maximal impact for presumably disinterested audience. Levinson’s pretty craven in his indifference to trying to make The Bay good at all. It’s contemptuous of the found footage horror audience it assumes it’ll have.

Kristen Connolly is almost good as a vacationer. She’d be good if it weren’t for the movie itself being bad.

And then a quick shoutout for Robert C. Treveiler, who plays the CDC guy who’s got terrible, goofy dialogue but Treveiler still holds it together reasonably well. He’d probably be the hero in a big budget version.

The Bay is bad. It’s worse than it needs to be thanks to Donohue’s terrible turn as narrator; she’s even likable in the found footage parts too. Even though you’re predisposed to dislike her because of the narration. Worse, the opening scene with her is she and Levinson talking about how he should’ve hired someone who would do the narration better.

It’s like you’re agreeing to give it a pass on the bad from the start, which is an interesting device but maybe shouldn’t be the most significant device you come up with for a piece of work. Then again Levinson giving up after the first three minutes are a flop explains a lot.

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