Movie Review: Barry Levinson warns us of the terrors of “The Bay”

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Alfred Hitchcock, so the story goes, wondered aloud one day what it would be like “if somebody really good” made a horror movie. And the result was “Psycho.”
Perhaps a similar wondering struck Barry “Rain Man” Levinson. Suppose somebody with an
Oscar and a few Oscar nominations, with first-rate credits such as “Avalon” and “Good Morning Vietnam,” albeit far in the past, made a “found footage” horror thriller.
That’s “The Bay,” opening Friday at The Enzian, a creature feature about footage of something —  viral or animal – that nearly wiped out a town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore a few years back. The video – from police cruisers, cell phones, home movie cameras, web cams and security cameras, was suppressed by the government. Hey, Levinson did “Wag the Dog” after all. Here, it’s the footage has been rounded up and leaked, in the form of a documentary expose narrated by a TV reporter intern (Kether Donohue) who survived the mayhem.
It didn’t start out as mayhem. The small town of Claridge was celebrating July 4, 2009, celebrating the desalination plant that enabled the big poultry producers in town to grow bigger, while dumping chicken waste by the ton into the Chesapeake Bay, when residents started getting sick.
They didn’t know that two very young oceanographers had stumbled into something weird in the water. One was French.
“Do you zink zis is anomaly?”
“Do I think it’s ‘Amelie?’”
Young Donna the would-be reporter deadpans a narration for an eco-leaks website, pointing out this person or that one in the various forms of found footage.
“And he would die, later that night.”
It starts with blisters. Competitors in the crab-eating contest turn it into a blood vomiting contest.  Some people go berserk. Others, we see from recovered cameras, are dragged by unseen “Jaws” under the murky brown waters of The Bay.
The hospital is overwhelmed. The Centers for Disease Control gets a Skype call and is shown images.
“Are you making this up? This looks like Photoshop.”
Local talk radio spreads rumors, the streets empty, and a young couple (Kristen Connolly of “Cabin in the Woods” is a young mom) make their way, by boat, to the “celebration,” passing fish kills and more chillingly, a small empty sailboat, whisking by.
Levinson expertly delivers a few shocks and jolts, as well as a couple of laughs. He rarely “breaks format,” giving us footage that could not be from a random camera on the scene. But where the Baltimore native surpasses most found-footage films is in his message. The Bay is a mess – poisoned, polluted, and still used by the unsuspecting for water sports, fishing and the like. Nature is making us pay for it.
“The Bay” isn’t a great film, or even the most jarring of the myriad found footage horror films of late. But it is well-acted, shot and edited. Levinson makes his point that when a top flight filmmaker takes on a beaten-to-death genre, he or she can raise the bar, even if they don’t reinvent the wheel.
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MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images and language
Cast: Kether Donohue, Kristen Connolly, Christopher Denham, Jane McNeil
Credits: Directed by Barry Levinson, written by Michael Wallach A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:24
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