The world doesn’t necessarily need another found-footage horror film, but Barry Levinson‘s well-crafted The Bay reminds us why there are so many of them to begin with. The format does precisely what it’s supposed to here, ramping up the dread through the illusion of reality. Combine that with Levinson’s commitment to (relative) plausibility and incisive understanding of human nature, and we’re left with an eco-horror film whose scares linger long after the credits roll.

Framed as an after-the-fact video report of the events (which the government doesn’t want you to see, natch), The Bay stitches together news reports, security camera recordings, Skype sessions, scientific logs, 911 calls, and the like to recall the gruesome, cataclysmic events of Independence Day 2009 in the beautiful vacation town of Claridge, Maryland. Yes, the premise owes a lot to Jaws, and Levinson never pretends otherwise. Obvious nods to the seaside horror classic are everywhere, down to the oily mayor (Frank Deal) who’s more concerned about saving tourism dollars than saving lives. Once the townfolk start showing up at the hospital complaining of painful rashes, however, The Bay quickly becomes its own thing.

While The Bay is less about specific characters than about the town’s story, it has a handful of recurring key players. Its lead, insofar as there is one, is a onetime aspiring reporter named Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) who narrates the proceedings via video chat in 2012; other notable figures include the oceanographers (Christopher Denham and Nansi Aluka) who discover Chesapeake Bay is a toxic stew, a persistent doctor (Stephen Kunken) who bears the brunt of the hopsital’s suddenly increased workload, and a remote CDC worker who can’t make heads or tails of the goings-on in Claridge.

Levinson ably delivers on The Bay‘s gory premise. If you delight in watching giant mutant isopods eat their way out of a man’s neck, or another one writhing under the skin of a person’s abdomen, The Bay is more than happy to help you indulge in those sights. Puddles of blood, severed limbs, half-eaten human faces, and squrming larvae also make apperances. None of this imagery is terribly new or fresh, but they land thanks to a combination of strong storytelling and believable special effects work — the latter aided, perhaps, by the fact that The Bay‘s found-footage conceit means little of it is in unforgiving, crystal-clear HD.

But the real terrors of The Bay are much more mundane. Indeed, the most chilling scene in the picture consists of two perfectly healthy men video-chatting with one another, with nary a parasite nor a drop of blood in sight. Asked by an exasperated CDC why Homeland Security had failed to alert them of the impending disaster, an officer (Anthony Reynolds) simply shrugs that that the report had bounced around from agency to agency because “no one knew what to make of it.” ‘Roided up isopods with a taste for human flesh may be a stretch, but clueless government officials and lying politicans eager to pass the buck certainly aren’t.

/Film rating: 7.5 out of 10.0

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