Tuesday, October 8, 2013

DreadBox: It's Not Easy Being Green

If you're new to DreadBox, click here.

Year: 2012
Director: Barry Levinson
Cast: Kether Donohue, Stephen Kunken, Kristen Connolly
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

The found footage genre gets a lot of flak. Some people get motion sickness due to the handheld camera work. Some people like their cinema to be crafted with at least some measure of elegance. But it's mostly because the found footage genre is an easy out. Any crappy director can grab a GoPro and shoot a found footage movie in a week for about ten dollars.

This is unfortunate, because found footage is one of my favorite genres. Cinéma vérité is an interesting way of putting the audience in the driver's seat and (to paraphrase my blogging idol Tim Brayton's views on film musicals), since it seems like we're stuck with movies as an entertainment medium, we might as well do something cool with it.

The found footage genre does have a lot of turds, but if you sift through the refuse, you can find some true gems. For every The Devil Inside, there's a Paranormal Activity. For every Zombie Diaries, there's a [REC]. For every V/H/S, there's a V/H/S 2. And it'd just be too obvious to mention The Blair Witch Project here, wouldn't it?

However, the modern found footage boom ignited by 2008's Cloverfield has left the genre in a base and dirty place with increasingly diminishing returns. That problem is solved here quite admirably in The Bay which, along with being one of the first ecological horror films in history (only three other films are   credited as such - two forgotten and slapdash works from 2006 and 1978 and M. Night Shyamalan's oxymoronically titled The Happening), breathes fresh life into the genre.

In spite of its protagonist, who sounds like she stepped out of a "Californians" SNL sketch.

Purportedly collected from hundreds of various digital video devices (camcorders, webcams, cell phones, security  cameras, etc.) that were confiscated by the government following The Incident, The Bay solves the twin problems of found footage simultaneously by providing a credible source for the footage (Why does Hud keep the camera rolling when the Cloverfield monster is on his tail?) and allowing itself a way to use multiple perspectives and angles, and even throw in a little spooky music when they feel like it without taking away from the realism of the film.

These avenues have been explored in the likes of Paranormal Activity 2 and George Romero's Diary of the Dead, but they are synthesized much better here. This is perhaps due to the film's totally weird pedigree. Director Barry Levinson is no stranger to cinematic success, due to having won a freaking Academy Award for directing Rain Man.

I know. I double checked that four times to make sure I wasn't lying to y'all. How this guy ended up directing a found footage horror picture is beyond me, but I sure am glad it happened, because this is without a doubt the best found footage picture of 2012, a year that saw 13 of the flipping things.

The film depicts the events of July 4, 2009 in the Chesapeke town of Claridge, Maryland. The bay is a vital source for the population, providing income, leisure, and thanks to the new desalination plant, drinking water. Unfortunately those crystal clear blue waters harbor a dark secret (Be proud of that pun, please. I'm a sad blogger. Punning is all I have.).

The local chicken farm has been pumping steroids into their water supply and wouldn't you know it, but their feces landfill is awfully close to a runoff point. Compound that with a slight nuclear leak from a couple years back and blammo! You got yourself a dead fish stew, spiced to perfection with rapidly growing flesh eating parasites.

That are actually kind of adorable.

That fateful Fourth of July, the celebrating townspeople prematurely end their lively splashing and bayside activities to flock to the local hospital in record numbers, complaining of bizarre rashes and lesions.

And being outrageously sexy.

To add insult to injury, not only are the poor victims being eaten by the water-dwelling isopods, they are also being devoured from the inside by massive insects who snuck into the drinking water through the desalination plant as microscopic larva.


For most of its runtime, The Bay eschews the modern trend of throwing monsters at the camera to make you shriek (although a couple of the bugs gave Sergio and I the willies big time by bursting out of places they patently weren't supposed to be) and opts for some deep seated body horror. A fabulous choice, if I do say so myself, because nothing scares Brennan more than even remotely plausible disease pictures.

Aside from being actually pretty terrifying, The Bay boasts a magnificently large cast that dilutes the more irritating quirks of some of the characters. Featured protagonists include Donna (Kether Donohue, who has a small part in the opening of Pitch Perfect), a college reporter caught in the middle of the outbreak and Our Humble Narrator; Dr. Abrams (Stephen Kunken), the medical professional whose efforts to alert the CDC are in vain (the CDC is portrayed as a vastly incompetent body, at one point Googling a type of isopod - Commentary!); and Stephanie (Kristen Connolly, the Final Girl from The Cabin in the Woods) and Alex (Will Rogers), a young married couple who are traveling to Claridge via boat with their baby in tow.

There's also a pair of police officers, a young girl on Facetime, and the town's mayor, as well as various townspeople who make brief appearances to flesh out the widespread impact of the infection.

Your backne is out of control, girl.

Although there are some brief moments where it doesn't seem like the filmmakers quite understand how modern technology works like a laughably illiterate text conversation between two young girls in addition to some unnecessary recaps, there are hard-hitting emotional moments (grandma's phone call will make you cry), a reliably creepy atmosphere, and a fun DIY horror vibe.

Don't get me wrong, this is no Jaws. We're still in the found footage realm here, a disgusting swamp ruled by the powerful tyrant [REC], but the slow burn horror and surprisingly sharp social commentary pack a whallop that puts The Bay in the top tier of its brethren.

TL;DR: The Bay is way way way better than it has any right or reason to be.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend $1.20 On This? Heck yeah, if you're in the mood for horror a little more subtle than an in-your-face haunted house flick, the likes of which seem to be flourishing this season.
Word Count: 1127

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