We use water for everything, from bathing to drinking to crop irrigation. It is part of our makeup; our world is 70% of it. And we're doing a lot of things to our water to make it undrinkable. Barry Levinson's found-footage film The Bay wades into the territory of environmental protection by showing us what could happen if we continue to pollute a substance necessary to human survival. As humanity continues to thrive, always striving for new technology that makes things cheaper or easier or faster, we find there are consequences for everything - and The Bay puts that into perspective as a faux documentary that shows how water pollution can equate to the demise of civilization.
There's no question that there are parasites in our rivers and lakes. They are naturally occurring organisms, and when we swim in the ocean we take the risk that we might just get one in the cut on our heel. Unclean water is always an issue in poorer countries; desalination is either not affordable or not a priority. The spread of bacteria through water is a constant fear.
Levinson plays off of this unexpected terror in The Bay, using a documentary style of spliced found-footage to tell the story of a terrifying and deadly July 4 day on the Chesapeake Bay where one community found itself the guinea pig for the CDC and the government. The film is narrated by Donna (Kether Donahue), a reporter who was on the scene in the town during the outbreak and who survived to tell the tale. The setup makes it appear that a film crew is interviewing Donna and splicing together the footage she compiled after the fact.
That means that The Bay is immediately more believable than most of the other films in the found-footage genre. No one is sitting around taping all of the carnage throughout its entirety; Levinson ensures that the source material comes from multiple tapes and cameras to circumvent the ridiculous notion that one man might be filming everything with the watchful, but unhelpful, eye of a documentarian.
That's a good start, but even moreso, the documentary is structured in a way that feels natural. Donna begins by showing us the heart of the town on Independence Day: they have events, they have eating contests, people swim in the bay. These are townspeople trying to have fun, and the emotional turbulence that comes later is preceded by the viewer seeing everyone in some of their happiest moments. Levinson does the same with a few victims early on, incorporating the last footage they shot before their deaths.
The Bay doesn't fall prey to all of the found-footage woes, and normally those are the biggest reasons why these type of movies aren't successful. The documentary aspect makes everything much more succinct, and Donna's narrative even allows Levinson to imbue the film with some scientific elaboration that explores environmental pollution. The film's explanation of the parasites that begin to infest residents of the Chesapeake Bay works off of fertilizer runoff, nuclear waste, desalination complications, and more. The science is pretty accurate, or at least close enough to truth where quick research reveals there are in fact parasites the film mentions and the premise seems plausible.
It's not always the case, and there are some moments where The Bay lingers in turbulent territory for too long. One scene in particular, where a couple gets off a boat in the town after most of the citizens are dead in the streets, rings hollow - if something so nightmarish were to happen to me, I probably wouldn't be exploring the town for any length of time. The same is true of some of the reactions, in particular those of Donna and her cameraman during the parasitic outbreak.
Still, The Bay has some creepy (crawly) effects and the parasites are pretty nasty. The gore is limited to gross lesions and a couple of bursting bodies, but the film hits heavier on an emotional level than it does on a violent one. Some might find the response from the CDC and the government a bit melodramatic, but Levinson is playing this up both for laughs and for exaggeration - realizing this film is sort of slight to the people who are supposed to be ensuring our national security, it's only fitting that he stretch the truth to make his point.
You could do much worse with a found-footage film than The Bay, and the film is surprisingly effective at almost everything it does. Unlike most of these films in the genre, it doesn't leech from others, and it's one of the most refreshing takes I've seen in a while. One thing is for sure- it'll definitely make you think twice about setting foot in strange waters.
The Bay on Rotten Tomatoes