Barry Levinson gives the found-footage format a try, with intriguing but lackluster results
The Bay Roadside Attractions
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenplay: Michael Wallach
Starring: Kether Donohue, Kristen Connolly, Christopher Denham, Stephen Kunken, Andy
Stahl and Frank Deal
Rated R / 1 hour, 24 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
The Bay deserves this much credit: It at least understands the limitations of the found-footage
aesthetic, and adjusts its style accordingly. Unlike countless other examples that back themselves
into a corner by forcing one or two characters to be holding a camera at all times, this one is put
together with various kinds of footage - different formats, different pieces of information - that
combine to create a piecemeal portrait of a devastating event.
For all intents and purposes, it's like a condensed, found-footage version of Contagion, its
various testimonials and video splices detailing a mysterious environmental plague that afflicts a
small Maryland town along the Chesapeake Bay.
The event is shown in a series of flashbacks, so we know that some modest sense of normalcy
and/or recovery has been established in the aftermath of the plague. Telling the story via webcam
is Donna (Kether Donohue), a twentysomething who was caught in the middle of the outbreak
when it happened but who managed to survive. Back then, she was a cub reporter for a local TV
station who quite accidentally stumbled upon the story of a lifetime.
The film smartly shows Donna (the young version) to be ill-prepared for such a story, and most
of her cameraman's news footage shows her basically getting in the way while trying in earnest
to do her job. The present-day Donna narrates the footage with self-deprecating comments about
her youthful naivete.
For her, that's the central theme of her video (and thus the film itself) - that the outbreak (which
disrupted a perfectly enjoyable Fourth of July celebration) is - or at least should be - a wake-up
call for a society that let it happen through apathy and negligence. The unwitting perpetrators of
the event are the usual suspects - megalomaniacal politicians, greedy corporations - and the
consequences of their actions are captured in gory detail. Police videos, personal camcorders,
surveillance cameras, and even footage from a team of activist researchers who were the first to
discover something strange about the dead fish littering the bay.
The Fourth of July in question proceeds innocuously enough for a
time. A few people notice a pesky rash. And then a few more. And then the rash is transforming
into a bulbous, red boil covering most of the skin. And people are falling ill and vomiting blood.
And bodies are found with their insides ripped out. Needless to say, it's only a brief matter of
time before there's a full-fledged panic.
The most interesting footage comes from an emergency-room doctor (Stephen Kunken) whose
corridors and operating rooms are quickly overrun with a host of people exhibiting the exact
same symptoms. Dr. Abrams is the best-drawn character in the film, as he heroically treats as
many people as he can, all while trying to figure the disease out and share information with the
The Bay was directed by Barry Levinson, the veteran of Rain Man, The Natural and Wag the
Dog fame. Curiously, for a director who's had such a strong history working with actors, the
performances are among the weakest links this time, with Kunken's portrayal of the doctor being
the only one that really reverberates. Donohue is the most persistent presence, but her character
and performance are forgettable at best.
As much as I admire Levinson's attempt to craft something more multi-faceted than your run-of-the-mill found footage flick, he falls into traps of his own that prove to be the film's undoing.
With all the different forms of footage and content he's got at his disposal, he chooses to edit
them together in a way reminiscent of an overdramatic montage you might see on local TV,
complete with slow-motion and silly musical cues. Now, I can argue this may be an intentional
decision, given that Donna's only experience in video editing would have been at the local TV
level. But that hardly seems like a good excuse. I mean, it's not as if Donna is so essential to the
film's perspective that she needs to be driving the whole narrative. The fact remains, the
resulting film feels too amateurish and monotonous for its own good.