“Are you making this up?,” someone asks when looking at a picture of the source of an outbreak in Maryland detailed in The Bay. “This looks Photoshopped.”
Mockumentaries are a sub-genre of found footage in which the narrator — in this case a thoroughly blank actress playing a local TV reporter — explains what’s going on while the story is cobbled together from Skype calls, iPhone videos, Google image searches, text chat, police dashcams, security cameras, and web sites. The wind-up is tense enough, but like many horror movies, it falls apart as it shows and exhaustively explains the monster.
The stuff about the Coast Guard, FEMA, the CDC, and Homeland Security failing to protect or help anyone is far more relevant and horrifying than anything that creeps out of Chesapeake Bay because of waste from a chicken farm. But this is a movie where the government response and cover-up is just an afterthought. Instead, at the top of the agenda is ick factor, similar to Eli Roth’s flesh eating bacteria movie, Cabin Fever. Plus a couple of obligatory jump scares with blaring musical cues despite the fact that we’re watching found footage. Nothing undercuts found footage quite like a carefully calculated musical cue.
The Bay was directed by Barry Levinson. It was produced by Oren Peli, the director of the original Paranormal Activity who’s been slathering his name on bad horror ever since. It was also produced by the Strause brothers, whose digital effects studio Hydraulx has been instrumental in movies as diverse as Battle Los Angeles and Take Shelter. But The Bay plays like a product of the collected talent behind movies like Wag the Dog, Sphere, and Skyline, and the TV show The River.
At least it’s better than a similar movie in which Val Kilmer plays a scientist who joins his daughter to fight prehistoric bugs thawing out in the Arctic. If you guessed such a movie is called The Thaw, you win. One of the most memorable parts of Gina Kolata’s book on the flu epidemic of the early 20th century — if you guessed the book is called Flu, you win again — details contemporary scientists digging up flu victims who were buried in permafrost in Alaska. They needed samples of the 1918 flu virus and hoped to find them intact in the frozen corpses. But they had to consider whether this might unleash a new epidemic. Spoiler: it didn’t. But because disease and parasites are often unseen and misunderstood, they occupy for many of us a place where ghosts and goblins would have been centuries ago. The Bay works at this level for a while, but in the end, a microbudget movie about throbbing pustules is just a microbudget movie about throbbing pustules.
The Bay is available now on video on demand (Amazon.com link here).