TIFF 2012 – The Bay Review (Matt Hodgson)

The Bay (2012)

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.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

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.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

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.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

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.

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The Cabin in the Woods Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Amy Acker.

Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard

Directed by Drew Goddard

 

Let’s face facts right up front here. Cabin in the Woods was shot in 2009 and finished in 2010. Hearing this you may feel this is yet another movie dump like the Eddie Murphy vehicle from earlier this year, A Thousand Words, which like most movie dumps was terrible. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Cabin in the Woods was slated for a late 2010 release until MGM filed chapter 11 and pulled everything from their release slate. Through negotiations Lionsgate acquired the finished film for release and then tinkered with a 3D post conversion, against the strongly expressed wishes of writer/producers Whedon and Goddard.  Thankfully we finally get to see this film, non-3D conversion, in theaters starting this weekend. What we get is a brilliantly conceived interpretation of the genre as a whole, a genius view of the contentions and as the Scream movies point out “The Rules” of the genre and how there may be more behind what we really are seeing than we previously may have thought. But before I go any farther, a warning: if you want to see this movie and have not yet, and you really should, STOP READING NOW. I know shocking right? Do not continue to read if you want to go in to the movie unspoiled, because even with me trying not to spoil, it will be spoiled. Go in knowing as little as possible and you will be very thankful you did. Then come back and read this and let me know what you think.

YOU WERE WARNED! We open in a vaguely developed government facility with Sitterson (Jenkins) and Hadley (Whitford) discussing the upcoming mission in broad terms with Lin (Acker) and relating the failings of other outposts around the planet. We then are introduced to Dana (Connolly) and Jules (Hutchison), 2 college roommates who are gearing up for a trip to the titular Cabin under the assumption that Jules’ boyfriend Curt’s (Hemsworth) cousin has recently purchased it. Dana has recently broke off an affair with her professor, something Jules is determined to get her past by setting her up with Curt’s book smart / lacrosse playing friend Holden (Williams). Also along for the ride is the resident substance abusing sidekick Marty (Franz) and his amazing smoking utensil, a joke I will not give away here. We soon learn all things are not as they seem as the government officials have a very detailed amount of information at their disposal about all of these students and seem to be in control of each move they make. We start to realize there is much more at stake behind what is happening as the group ends up deciding their own fates, literally. There is also much more going on in the government facility and we find out just how connected to the events of the weekend they really are.  Twists and turns abound as the film builds to a unpredictable climax with deadly implications.

Cabin in the Woods is blessed with a brilliant script and vision that Goddard and Whedon have fought tooth and nail to protect. And the audience is the benefactors of their passion. An amazingly original take on a whole genre that feels fresh and new, while paying homage and borrowing from the past, Cabin succeeds where so many others have failed. The cast works well together, Whitford and Jenkins are brilliant in their government bunker overseeing the activities with Acker trying to be a voice of reason in the background. Hemsworth and Williams both show why they have achieved their levels of success outside of Cabin. Connolly and former Power Ranger Hutchison, in a role extremely far removed from her children’s show beginnings, work well as the female leads. Franz brings the caustic wit he brought to his character in Whedon’s Dollhouse to the role of Marty, who like Acker, is one of a few of Whedon’s regulars peppered throughout the film.

The way Whedon and Goddard play with the stereotypes and conventions of traditional slasher fare and the manipulation of such with respect to the story is such a brilliant concept it begs the questions as to why it took so long for someone to think this up. I’m just glad that Whedon and Goddard have finally figured a way to play with these traditional slasher roles in a whole new way and present a daring and original vision along the way.

Easily the best film I’ve seen this year and I’ll be surprised if it’s not in my top 10/15 films by the end of the year. Get out there and see this, then come back and tell me what you think.

 

Til Next Time

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