The Bay: An Artier Piranha 3D

10/24/2012 4:00 AM |

The Bay
Directed by Barry Levinson

This latest found-footage horror film chronicles the daylong disintegration of a Chesapeakeside town after an ecological disaster: a perfect combination of pollution and lax regulation turns Claridge, Maryland’s water—both for swimmin’ and for drinkin’—into a “toxic soup” rife with parasites and their larvae, which either eat their way into or out of all the humans. It’s like nature’s revenge, comeuppance for the people who’re culpable for these monsters’ mutations. Think an artier Piranha 3D (sans its third dimension) with the intensity amped up: don’t go in the water, don’t drink the water, don’t eat anything that came out of the water. Don’t even touch the water!

The fictional disaster occurred in 2009, on the Fourth of July, but is only being reported now thanks to the release on a Wikileaks-like site of government-confiscated digital files. Narrated by a reporter—who accidentally covered the mayhem as a journalism student—the footage is culled from all over: local news B-roll, video chats, scientists’ logs, police cameras, social networks, CCTV surveillance, and personal devices (including cell phones). Grabbing stuff from so many different sources scatters the film’s focus, sacrificing most of the narrative urgency: it’s a movie with only supporting characters, investigators and victims, none of whom you care much about. But the format does at least allow for some artful death scenes: in one, damaged video of two teens being eaten while taking a dip appears in choppy fragments, like still photographs; in another, a camera on a police car is fixed on the unchanging outside of a house while horrible happenings inside unfold on the cruiser’s radio.

While many horror films supposedly culled from discovered tapes often have something critical to say about the ubiquity of cameras today—how we’re all alienated from each other or something—this movie does the opposite; it suggests that the prevalence of recording devices isn’t so bad, because at least it can help us after the fact to piece together tragic mysteries. And, after all, if everybody in Claridge hadn’t had some kind of camera that day, this curious movie would’ve been just another Piranha.

Opens November 2