It’s October 1, which, for many movie-lovers, signals the opening of Halloween season. Not Coming to a Theater Near You has launched its ninth 31 Days of Horror series and Bill Ryan’s reviewing scary reads again for his annual The Kind of Face You Slash marathon. And so, we turn to Barry Levinson’s The Bay. “It’s truly hard to find decent horror,” writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York, “never mind scare stories that flaunt an environmental conscience. This expert entry in NYFF’s inaugural midnight sidebar will have you creeped out over microbial parasites long after you take a swig of tap water…. The movie compresses its Stephen King–like municipal scope into a ferocious 84 minutes.”
“Are you fed up with found footage?” asked David Cox in the Guardian when The Bay premiered in Toronto‘s Midnight Madness program. “Prepare to be knocked out. The Bay bursts through the home-video barrier to present not the record from a single camcorder but a comprehensive montage of the different kinds of audiovisual data, public and private, that were generated by the events it portrays. In so doing, it offers a fresh and arresting insight into the way we’re now documenting our history. That’s point one. Point two is that the terror evoked this time doesn’t depend on fantasy fears about ghosts, aliens, cannibals or zombies. It’s prompted by phenomena that could actually occur, or almost have done, and should therefore scare the rationally oriented even more than timorous types. This is horror for grown-ups.”
At the AV Club, Noel Murray agrees that “maybe it takes an old pro like Levinson to show how an increasingly played-out genre can be improved. As a horror film, Levinson’s The Bay is just okay. Set on July 4th in a sleepy waterfront Baltimore town, the movie follows the rapid progression of a mysterious flesh-eating ailment that affects residents who’ve been in contact with the local water supply; but only occasionally does Levinson deliver good, jolting scares. Instead, he focuses on constructing a full-scale narrative, using these new, caught-on-the-fly techniques—re-imagining Jaws for the YouTube/Skype/nannycam era.”
Drew Taylor at the Playlist: “Primarily known for his talky, small-scale comedic dramas, exemplified by his beloved Diner, Vanity Fair recently made a compelling argument for this seminal Barry Levinson film influencing everything from Seinfeld and Swingers to Judd Apatow’s comedy factory and feel-good Hollywood trifles like The Natural. In light of this posit, this makes The Bay, Levinson’s new, highly squishy found footage horror movie more than just a career left turn; it’s more like he veered onto oncoming traffic. The only thing more surprising than Levinson making The Bay, though, is how effectively creepy it is.” Writing at the L, Jesse Hassenger agrees that The Bay “represents his best directorial work in about a decade.”
“Screenwriter Michael Wallach, a former State Department political analyst, capably assembles the hodgepodge of neglect involved in the dumping of chicken excrement into the bay,” explains indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn. “However, he relies on the larger framing device of nervous young reporter Donna (Kether Donohue) recording her video reminiscences of the sudden viral outbreak that killed off most of the town. Donna’s memories occasionally help to contextualize some of the footage but also frequently distract from the more potent dramas they depict…. Once the mayhem begins, The Bay puts a fair amount of effort into framing the infection in horror terms, as various residents come across bloodied corpses and dying victims with creatures writing beneath their skin. At this point, by-the-numbers screeching music cues and freakish makeup emphasize the scares. As body horror goes, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but the non-fiction foundation still deepens the level of unsettlement.”
“Playing by classic B-movie genre rules but with a mostly convincing veneer of reportorial realism, this lean, microbudget entry sustains tension while delivering squirms, even if it drops the ball in the wrap-up,” writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter.
Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema: “Ecological horror isn’t an easy route to go, and for every noteworthy entry (The Last Winter, 2006) there’s hackneyed tripe like The Happening (2008) or The Thaw (2009). But for those looking for some old fashioned thrills, look no further—The Bay is a lot of fun.” At Twitch, Joshua Chaplinsky agrees that it’s “very effective, partly due to the plausibility of the whole thing. (If you don’t believe me, Google ‘giant isopods’ and prepare for the willies.) That being said, I never need to see another found footage horror movie again.”
Toronto and NYFF 2012: a guide to the coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.