Starring Will Rogers, Kristen Connolly, Kether Donohue, Frank Deal, Stephen Kunken, Christopher Denham, and Nansi Aluka
Directed by Barry Levinson
The seventh night of Midnight Madness (MM), the Toronto International Film Festival’s midnight programme, featured quite possibly the most decorated and experienced director to ever grace the midnight stage: Barry Levinson. Levinson is responsible for Rain Man, Wag the Dog, Sleepers, and Good Morning, Vietnam. It was very surprising to hear that Levinson was in Toronto with a horror movie, especially because he had never made one before and he must be about 70 years old by now, but given his experience I suppose the man has the ability to direct anything he wants to. I tried to have an open mind as the lights went down and I prepared myself for the eco-thriller mockumentary titled The Bay.
The Bay is the story of Claridge, a small seaside town in America that would probably be uninteresting to almost anyone, except for the recently retired or vacationers looking for unparalleled seaside solitude. Aside from the annual crab festival, complete with a crab eating contest and even the crowning of a crustacean beauty queen, there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in Claridge. However, that changes after two marine biologists make a shocking discovery: the bay is becoming overrun with a small parasites called isopods. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Claridge, the isopods appear to be growing at an alarming rate and even have a certain way of getting out of their watery environment which could be considered detrimental to human health.
Levinson uses an interesting technique to tell the story of The Bay. The movie is very much a found footage flick, but instead of following one camera around for the entire run-time, Levinson opts to use multiple sources to keep the feel of the film fresh. We get a variety of perspectives: a camera man’s POV, video diaries, Skype calls, and security camera footage. This technique does all it can to keep the movie interesting, however the actual events of The Bay do not provide the same variety. We spend a lot of time looking at rashes in hospitals and listening to people in anguish before they die. These scenes are certainly effective, but only up to a point. Levinson really needed to kick the horror into the next gear to truly frighten the audience, but the story ends before that happens. We also get a few really good jump scares, but The Bay ultimately fails to create an atmosphere of panic, desperation and dread.
The performances do little to help the movie feel like reality. Many of the performances feel artificial, particularly Donohue’s reporter whose words do not match her facial expressions during her retelling of the horrible events that took place in Claridge.
However, The Bay was not simply intended to be a scary night out at the movies. Fueled by unabashed political motivation, The Bay is not an entirely fictional story. Levinson told the MM audience that what we were about to witness was 85% true. An odd number, but given how close it was to 100%, The Bay became a very interesting story indeed. Throughout the narrative many authority and government figures, including the mayor of Claridge, seem to make bad decision after bad decision and put the inhabitants of Claridge in danger. I have not done my homework yet to see which parts of The Bay were real and which were fictional, but if Levinson’s estimate of 85% is even close to true, The Bay becomes a damning tale of government incompetence. Unfortunately, if you remove the ‘true story’ angle of The Bay it remains a mildly scary horror film at best.
The Bay may tell an important true story, but fails as a piece of entertainment. It is completely out of touch with what scares a young audience these days, the same audience that has historically brought in the bucks for horror movies. Midnight Madness seems to be quite short on edgy movies this year, however we still have three to go: Come Out and Play, The ABCs of Death, and John Dies at the End. I’m hoping that these three movies bring the in-your-face, frightening, and visceral experiences that have made the midnight program so popular for so many festival attendees.