The best way to describe “The Bay” is as a Frankenstein experiment gone wrong. It’s an attempt to cobble together a thriller from several different media sources, but the effect is such that the story falls through the cracks, not receiving the proper amount of attention and falling to the wayside in favor of the actual method of executing it. To put it much more simply, the film becomes an exercise in style over substance.
The plot involves a mysterious incident in a small city in Maryland that was supposedly covered up by the government. A journalist (Kether Donohue) has been trying to speak out about it, but due to the confiscation of all video equipment that documented it, she hadn’t had much luck. However, thanks to a website leaking the video footage, she is able to go back and explain everything as it occurred.
The incident involved what was at first thought to be a viral outbreak of some kind, resulting in several victims who suddenly had large boils appear on their skin. The local hospitals don’t know what to make of it, nor does the Center for Disease Control. It’s soon discovered that it’s not even a virus, but rather an organism attacking them in the waters right off the shore of their town. As you can probably expect, it’s not long before mass panic begins to take hold, especially when the death toll starts to climb steadily.
Basically, what “The Bay” tries to be is an ecological thriller, but the main problem is that the thrills just aren’t there. The main reason for this, as I’ve already mentioned previously, is because of the decision to have the film constantly jumping around from one medium to another in an attempt to tell the tale in a new-age, technological way. The film starts off with simple news reports before cutting over to the journalist on Skype, and then continues to jump around to video cameras, internet feeds, and even text messaging.
It seems like a rather interesting idea for a storytelling method, but it turns out to be too distracting for a story of this nature. I have a feeling the film would have worked much better had they stuck to one or two cameras covering the action. My mind kept flashing back to “Cloverfield” and how effective that had been despite the shakiness of the cameras. Covering this disaster in this way as the people of this small town are trying to figure out what is going on could have been just as effective.
It may surprise you to find out that “The Bay” was directed by Academy Award winner Barry Levinson, who is the man behind such great films as “Rain Man,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” and “Young Sherlock Holmes.” While the film didn’t work out as well as he’d hoped, it’s still interesting to see him go in this direction. Apparently the idea struck him after he watched a documentary about the Chesapeake Bay. Despite finding it to be a good documentary, he thought he’d make his film more appealing by turning it into a fictitious thriller combined with some factual information.
Sadly, what resulted was a jumbled mess, a film that feels more like somebody randomly flipping through channels that are all talking about something similar. Levinson should have been far more concerned about his story rather than the method in which he presented it. Something like this could theoretically work, but both the former and the latter need equal attention. In addition, there need to be more thrills to keep the audience engaged in what should be a horrific ride. The audience shouldn’t be sitting there staring at their watches waiting for a movie that’s merely 80 minutes to end.
Turning now to the DVD itself, the film is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. The video quality is rather hard to judge given that it switches to different mediums throughout the film, so one second you’ll have decently-shot footage of what’s happening, the next you’ll be watching the events through a cell phone camera. However, for the different outlets presented here, you can see pretty much everything happening in decent enough quality. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio is loud and clear despite these various changes, so there’s nothing to complain about on that front.
The special features are rather sparse and only include an audio commentary with director Barry Levinson, as well as a featurette entitled “Into the Unknown: Barry Levinson on The Bay.” The commentary was rather strange. Whereas most directors talk pretty much nonstop throughout their films, Levinson would only chime in with comments every once in a while, leaving long gaps in between. In didn’t really matter though as he pretty much says the same thing in both the commentary and the featurette. He discusses how it was a challenge to tell the story through different formats and how the actors actually filmed parts of the movie themselves to make it more realistic. Overall, there’s not much to be learned from these extras that you couldn’t already figure out on your own.
Unfortunately, the DVD is just not recommendable. Not only is the film a jumbled mess, but the special features aren’t even worth the time to sit through. At the very least, there should have been something about how the film was assembled from the various sources, because I’m sure it was indeed a challenge to put it together. It merely becomes a shame that the product wasn’t worth the time put into the assembly.
Special Features: 5/10
Overall Score: 5/10
Available on DVD starting today.
This review is based on a copy of the DVD received for reviewing purposes.