Friday, September 28, 2012

NYFF 2012: The Genre-Twisted Whims of De Palma and Levinson

Posted By on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 9:00 AM

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Barry Levinson has, as far as I know, less of a rabid following than De Palma, but he's no less in need of a return to the drawing board—and the fact that he too has a genre-y NYFF entry that represents his best directorial work in about a decade (for these purposes I will not count the well-regarded HBO movie You Don't Know Jack, which I have not seen) represents more of a curveball. His horror picture The Bay doesn't feel as personal, but it is an inventive take on the found-footage subgenre. (The producers have worked on the Paranormal Activity series.) Its framing device has ingenious scope: after a small-town disaster on Chesapeake Bay, the government confiscated any and all video footage. But someone has leaked the footage, and journalists have assembled it into a documentary; as such, we have a found-footage version of an ensemble pandemic (pandsemble?) movie like Contagion.

The conceit gives the movie shots of everything from medical examinations to the inside of a fish's mouth—a fascinating way of looking at a horrific event, even a made-up one. But there isn't room for the characters in these tiny subplots (subshots, really) to develop; the only one with significant screentime is the young journalist (Kether Donohue) who pops in to narrate the footage, offering awkward interjections like "every time I watch these FaceTime videos, it makes me sad." The movie can't fully depart from its vaguely polemic roots as an environmental cautionary tale.

Still, the outbreak effects from Hydraulx (masters of convincing effects on the cheap, as seen in their founders' terrible but surprisingly not-cheap-looking Skyline) are vividly creepy, and though the movie stretches itself gaunt even under 90 minutes, it's great to see Levinson trying something unexpected. His attempt at horror makes an intriguing double feature with Passion: Levinson revitalizes his filmmaking by sewing a quilt of faux-objectivity, while De Palma revels in an off-kilter ultra-subjectivity. They should give into these genre-twisted whims, by turns familiar and adventurous, more often.

Passion screens on Saturday, September 29, and later. Click for more info. The Bay screens Saturday and Sunday. Click here for more info.

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