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'The Bay': Hackneyed 'found footage' approach spells tedium

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
Arriving just in time to seem antiquated, "The Bay" hops belatedly onto the "found footage" bandwagon for horror movies. You know: the "Paranormal Activity" mode of pretending to exist entirely as footage from camcorders, smart phones, news reports, security cameras.
Presiding over this particular eco-horror offering is director Barry Levinson, the Oscar winner from "Rain Man." If it sounds a little outside Levinson's usual range, it looks that way watching it, too.
The movie begins with a once-spunky, now disillusioned TV reporter (Kether Donohue) addressing us via Skype. She's put together the report we're about to see, culled from dozens of different sources.
It's all about what happened on July 4, 2009, in a Chesapeake Bay town where the usual Independence Day celebration turned into a nightmare. The whole thing was hushed up (which, given the scale of the event, seems extremely unlikely) but now -- you guessed it -- the truth can be told.
The menace comes from pollution and monsters. As the old beer commercial used to say, "It's the water," which has absorbed a great deal of steroid-infused chicken poop and is now ready to serve up the hideous results.
Seeing the build-up to this provides some horror-movie enjoyment; the creeping feeling that something awful is about to start happening is a huge part of the appeal of disaster pictures.
The stitching-together of all these supposed video sources feels pretty laborious, maybe because we've seen enough of these "found footage" pictures already. Adding the inconvenient truth of environmental monstrosity seems like overkill.
Levinson has said "The Bay" came out of research he did for a proposed documentary about how badly polluted Chesapeake Bay is. It wasn't a huge leap to push the material in the direction of fiction.
All of that is believable, but Levinson doesn't seem terribly comfortable with the jumping-around of the style. The use of mostly unknown actors is effective, because it helps with the artifice, and when the monsters come they are also effective.
In fact, no nauseating detail is left out, from the hospital that is suddenly overrun by locals with nasty skin lesions to the oceanographers sailing around the bay. The scientists pick up fish that look kind of funny. They ought to be examined.
Then you have to stick your hand inside the fish's mouth, and -- well, you can see how "The Bay" builds up its effects. Problem is, the whole movie consists of one-note variations on this theme. And even at a bare 84 minutes, those variations grow tedious long before the end.
"The Bay" (1½ stars)
Director Barry Levinson takes a "found footage" approach to an eco-horror picture, with tedious results. The film purports to be the record of a very bad July 4th party on Chesapeake Bay, where the water is so polluted, strange things are bound to come out of it.
Rated: R for violence, language, subject matter.
Showing: Sundance.
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