2 out of 5 stars
Barry Levinson’s newest film, ‘The Bay’ was something I was drawn to purely because of my proximity to the Chesapeake Bay. The concept of an ecological disaster occurring in the bay, while at first seemed appealing to me, after realizing that this was yet another film of spliced and shaky camcorder footage, my hopes began to plummet. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what Levinson was thinking when making this film. It isn’t like Maryland doesn’t already have a low budget camcorder film (The Blair Witch Project) that has remained superior to all of the cheap imitations since its release.
The plot behind ‘The Bay’ is very simple, and doesn’t deviate from anything you might expect a disaster film about the Chesapeake Bay to be. The subtle appearance of science fiction gradually grew to become the driving force behind this film that might as well have taken place in a coastal town on Mars based on its believability. How long has chicken run off been addressed in the news? I remember a few years ago hoards of fish were being caught with sores and lesions, and even then, authorities put the blame on chicken farms. The other half of the plot deals with another creature common enough to anyone who’s ever fished in the Chesapeake; and that is sea lice.
Tiny aquatic pill bugs found on most fish hauled from the murky waters, when exposed to poultry steroids grow exponentially in Levinson’s new film. This imaginative idea gives the film more of a science fiction feel that exists as a grumbling undertone throughout its tiresome scenes of disaster. And the sequences in this film become tiresome rather quickly. Faux footage might’ve been unique and groundbreaking initially (years ago), but now, we as a collective audience have become desensitized by the continual stream of films churning out ‘what if?’ scenarios. Yes, ‘what if’ this highly unlikely ecological disaster occurred on a small eastern shore town in Maryland; how would everyone react? Who would survive? Of course the government is to blame, and of course the government would attempt to keep everything very secretive to avoid a scandal. Everything about this film was so phony that I found myself enjoying the Maryland waterways scenery in the end credits more than the actual film.
Levinson has had some cinematic classics, from, ‘Rain Man’ and ‘Wag The Dog’ to the local favorite, (and perhaps mine too) ‘Diner.’ A number of his films are based around his hometown of Baltimore, and unlike John Waters, Levinson has chosen to depict Maryland as a warm and quirky setting for interactions instead of showcasing the bizarre and deviant community that it harbors. The town that acts as the setting in ‘The Bay’ is too shown as a safe and inviting place, an eden for its inhabitants and those who were raised there. The invasion of flesh eating sea lice is similar to virtually any seizure by a foreign species and the fear and panic that spreads through the quiet Maryland town parallels the progression of sea lice growing within a host.
A supersized sea lice writhing within a human body is far from a symbiotic relationship, considering that when fully grown, the lice devours a being from inside-out and directly results in immanent death. I’ve been thinking that Barry Levinson is trying to portray the Chesapeake Bay’s relation to pollution, especially coastal chicken farming as something akin to the existence of sea lice, something un-symbiotic. Perhaps in minor amounts, Chicken farming wouldn’t pose much of a problem to the ecosystem, just as sea lice, when existing at a normal size offer little threat to their chordatal hosts. But humanity (seemingly always at the root of every single disaster in film) allowed chicken farming to grow exponentially, and when handled carelessly proved that monstrous environmental repercussions were unavoidable. It is my opinion that, if this underlying message were at work behind the scenes of ‘The Bay’ I might appreciate Levinson’s newest effort more. I also understand that some of the best science fiction films are merely guises for deeper cultural issues. But is Barry Levison’s ‘The Bay’ a schlocky mask for an environmental concern, an ecosystem crying for help? I’d like to think so, because at least that way I wouldn’t hate this film as much as I do now.
I would recommend this film to anyone who lives on the eastern shore of Maryland purely for the confounding yet gratifying effect that seeing places you know intimately, (but) on film provides. ‘The Bay’ isn’t original, nor is it unique. There are very few interesting techniques at play, yet the film also boasts a predominantly annoying cast, so that’s another deterrent. I feel rather safe assuring everyone to skip this one, and watch ‘The Blair Witch Project’ again if you want to know what low budget, shaky-cam horror about Maryland should resemble.