Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In short: The Bay (2012)

A small US town is hit by an outbreak of something particularly nasty thanks to a mixture of radioactivity, polluted chicken shit, and the traditions of the eco horror movie. Things get rather horrible for the place. We are - of course - witnessing events via a documentary made out of footage shot by various people all around town.

Isn't it rather strange that it needs Barry Levinson, the director of fucking Rain Man to make creative use of the POV horror style rather than his more horror based colleagues, breathing life into a sub-genre that has grown pretty stale through everybody's insistence to attempt to remake Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity again and again and again? And if I, as someone still somewhat beholden to POV horror, am getting impatient with the genre, I can't even imagine what sane people will think about it.
Levinson's approach differs in two major aspects from POV standards.

Firstly, where most POV horror uses the found footage approach to limit its perspective very closely to a handful of characters in one place, Levinson takes different kinds of footage to create a larger view of a community hit by a catastrophe, still leaving room for individual horrors but showing the individual suffering as part of a bigger whole. That approach feels particularly fresh because films about (minor) apocalypses seldom use it; if you think about it, it's really rather close to the 70s disaster movie formula, just without the interest in washed-up stars and Charlton Heston speaking into things, and carrying a much nastier undertone. And make no mistake about it, The Bay's catastrophe isn't just a particularly icky one, this is also a film perfectly willing and able to kill off the kinds of characters all of Levinson's Hollywood instincts should actually make sacrosanct. The whole thing really gets surprisingly unpleasant, as if the director had discovered his inner exploitation filmmaker and indulged him as much as possible.

Secondly, The Bay's danger isn't a supernatural one, but belongs into the hoary and wonderful tradition of eco horror, a sub-genre I'd call rather more science-fictional if the science in it ever were much good. This leaves Levinson open to actually explain what's going on in the film without having to betray the gruesomeness of it all. It's not that I don't love ambiguity, it is, however, from time to time nice to encounter a film that just wants to shout its background story into your face while nasty things eat away at its tongue.

Subtle, The Bay consequently isn't: the characters - though decently acted by people like Kristen Connolly and Kether Donohue - are drawn in the broadest of strokes, the conspiracy theorist elements are a bit talk radio (though they don't include the Illuminati nor reptoids, so it's not that bad), and the narrative has the bluntness of an object the film wants to cave your head in with, but there's something to be said for a lack of subtlety when the resulting film feels as unpleasant and tight as The Bay does. I think I've just forgiven Barry Levinson for Rain Man (though not for the reactionary bullshit of Sphere).

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