What It's About
Forget vampires, zombies and aliens. "The Bay" is about something terrifying that could really happen -- an ecological disaster that wipes out a small Maryland town. Using the modern way we document our lives: cellphones, surveillance tapes, Skype, webcams, 911 calls, this thriller's m.o. is found footage. But unlike more amateurish movies, this is well-constructed in the hands of director Barry Levinson ("Rain Man," "The Natural").
A typical small-town Fourth of July celebration in 2009 is marred by the rapid progression of residents' becoming ill and in some cases, dying. The hospital is overrun, and panic spreads as the body count mounts. CDC is perplexed. The disgusting consequences of what has invaded the seaside resort's water systems is uncovered by a student journalist, Donna Thompson (Kether Donahue), who three years later puts everything together because the true story has been suppressed.
"The Bay" is a creepfest for the 21st century, another cautionary tale about risks ignored that will send shivers up your spine.
The cast is largely unknown, and that makes this tale even more authentic -- the noble Dr. Abrams (Stephen Kunken); the wife and mother Stephanie (Kristen Connolly "The Cabin in the Woods"), trying to save her baby; and the oceanographer-scientist Sam (Christopher Denham "Argo"). Kether Donohue ("Pitch Perfect") is excellent as the crusading reporter, tying everything together with integrity.
Borrowing the elements that made "Jaws," "28 Days Later" and any '70s government conspiracy so frightening, Levinson effectively builds the suspense in such a way that you are never not riveted to the screen. By using various media to unfold the material, we experience the horror through the people touched by the tragedy, and the top-notch editing job makes the story flow very well.
While it's gruesome, Levinson has the good taste to not linger too long on the gore. There are a few key jolts that provide further chills and it's enough to give someone nightmares (unless they hurry up and watch their DVR'd "Modern Family" afterward).
What Doesn't Work
It is scary, and I jumped, but for those used to the modern horror films in the "Saw" genre, they might be disappointed. This is old-school horror without gratuitous sex and violence, and enough disturbing visuals to give one the heebie-jeebies. But it might be too tame for the Rob Zombie-grindhouse-midnight movie fans, although Oren Peli of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise is a producer. There is very little humor to break the tension, either.
Director: Barry Levinson
Starring: Kether Donahue, Frank Deal, Christopher Denham, Stephen Kunken