A 70-year-old director would not necessarily be the obvious choice to give the ‘found footage’ subgenre a much-needed shot in the arm, but this brilliantly-conceived and immaculately-executed chiller from Oscar winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Sleepers) is not only the veteran director’s best film in years, but a far more effective example of the form than, say, The Last Exorcism. Fizzing with energy and brimming with ideas, it feels like the work of a filmmaker fifty years Levinson’s junior (in a good way)
Levinson, whose TV show Homicide: Life on the Street helped popularise the now-ubiquitous news camera-influenced ‘unsteady-cam’ style of modern crime shows, constructs the film like a documentary, collating a wide variety of material – including webcams and phone footage, 911 calls, local newsfeeds, radio phone-in recordings – to describe the bizarre events that took place in the seaside resort of Claridge, Maryland (population 6,200), during the July 4th weekend in 2009, when two million dead fish washed ashore, a thousand dead birds fell from the sky, and numerous other unexplained phenomena – local residents going missing, being killed, or suffering outbreaks of horrific, plague-like pustules – were covered up by the media, or redacted by the government.
Films of this kind require absolute authenticity to maintain suspension of disbelief, and The Bay is 99.5% effective in this regard, let down only by the fact two of the cast members (Christina Gallagher and Christopher Denham are recognisable from recent roles. (Note to future ‘found footage’ film directors: to ensure lasting impact, make sure the actors in your film never intend to work again.) Nit-picking aside, The Bay is a highly effective faux-documentary, which prizes disturbing sequences over cheap shocks, builds a convincing sense of dread, and describes an all-too-plausible scenario for a localized ecological nightmare. ★★★★