Barry Levinson? Making a found-footage contagion horror flick? Surely there's been some mix up down in accounts?
There used to be a time when Hollywood veteran Barry Levinson could inspire audiences all over the world to simultaneously vomit in coordinated gastric rapture simply through prolonged exposure to the saccharine content of films like Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain Man.
Levinson’s latest comeback special is a visceral found-footage chiller called The Bay, in which the Bugsy director subjects his actors to similar levels of regurgitative vengeance. Make no mistake, there is a serious amount of spew on display here, as key players line up to heave and hurl for the camera in a succession of increasingly grotesque vomit-based set pieces.
A gruesome yarn about a deadly plague of isopods (think massive underwater lice beasts) unleashed upon an unsuspecting Maryland idyll and the inevitable carnage that follows, The Bay finds Levinson in sub-Jaws, sub-Piranha, Z-grade form. In fact, the film feels more like the work of a director who knows he’s perilously close to taking his chances on the direct-to-VOD circuit than it does a seasoned Academy Award winner.
Levinson made his name by working on big, glossy dramas with screen icons such as Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. So why is he attempting to salvage his reputation with something as vulgar as a found-footage creature feature about flesh-eating death monsters? It’s a limited format at best and, as proven by the recent macabre compendium V/H/S, something of a young man’s game.
Maybe it’s an attempt to recapture a little of the independent spirit that infused his first and possibly finest film Diner? Or perhaps he simply wanted to make a low-rent potboiler about helpless idiots who throw up on themselves? Either way, it’s a bit like going clubbing with your uncle. It just doesn’t feel right.
That’s not to say there aren’t at least a handful of efficient scares. The Bay is nothing if not an effective skin-crawler, albeit an entirely perfunctory one. There are nifty, gory moments throughout including plenty of satisfyingly unpleasant scenes in which the townsfolk get eaten alive by the aforementioned parasites of doom. A bloodcurdling flashback sequence that reveals how two scientists discovered the outbreak in the first place is a scuzzy pleasure.
Sure, the film is about as horrifying as a stray towel on a windy beach, but it’s all rather fun, if depressingly ordinary. Imagine what a bright young thing like former Troma man James Gunn, director of intergalactic maggot romp Slither, could do with The Bay’s hackneyed conceit.
Matters aren’t helped by the way Levinson shoehorns in both a heavy-handed environmental message (don’t throw chicken shit in the water, kids) and a vaguely clumsy attempt at contextualising the government’s response to the pestilence as a jet-black, post-Katrina comedy of errors.
Levinson never was the most subtle storyteller. Here he feels like a hippy with a camcorder, setting the world to rights from the comfort of a Malibu porch.
A watershed moment: finally, a found-footage monster movie from the man behind Toys and Sphere.
Lashings of body horror for the gorehounds and a generous helping of chills make for an entertaining rental, if nothing more.
Effective but hollow, The Bay is a minor work from a director lost at sea.