Barry Levinson is about the last director you would ever expect to see behind the wheel of a found-footage horror movie about isopods that eat people from the inside. He’s notable for movies such as Diner and Rain Man, character dramas that win awards, and in fact, he’s got an Oscar. He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t feel like doing, even if his recent career has been less than stellar.
But man, did he ever feel like doing this.
To say The Bay is, quite literally, like nothing in Levinson’s filmography is the understatement of the year. He’s dabbled in genre before, most notably the regrettable Sphere, but nothing quite like this. Essentially, Levinson has stepped in to show all these found footage horror filmmakers how its done and it’s his best movie in years.
Too bad you’re probably not going to see it in theaters.
Found footage movies tend not to work because there’s a certain “grammar” to an amateur shooting on a camcorder or a cell phone just like a professional shot, and that style is hard to nail. Levinson, though, gets it: Everything here feels like it was shot by somebody actually present.
Helping also is the fact that the story is told from multiple perspectives: citizens, news crews, doctors, police officers, scientists, security cameras. The key is that everything fits: Even if a character only lasts a few minutes, the overall plot is still pushed forward. Levinson and Michael Wallach treat the isopods attacking as a viral outbreak and environmental disaster; the horror comes as much from bureaucratic breakdowns and mismanagement making things worse as it does from flesh-eating beasties.
And it turns out Levinson is perfect because he knows how people talk. It’s not a coincidence this movie is set in Maryland, along the Chesapeake Bay; this is where Levinson grew up. He knows how people talk to each other, what they say when they’re happy, when they’re scared, when they’re worried.
He’s not shy about grossing you out, either. While this may not be the most splatastic movie of the year, there are definitely moments that are going to make some viewers green. Levinson knows when to keep it offscreen, too: The doctor clinically discussing what the parasite does is about a thousand times grosser than anything you actually see.
What’s baffling, though, is this movie’s rollout. So far it’s only seen a limited release; I live in Boston and it’s only in one theater halfway across the city. To review this I was forced to rent it. True, you can rent it over video-on-demand any time, but a movie this good with a studio like Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions behind it making this call is odd, to say the least.
Oh well. At least you can see it. And you should; if nothing else, it’ll be four bucks well spent.