FEATURE: Shocktober - The Bay

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here.



There's a certain sense of horror already built into a contagion-based film and none more so than in the present climate of Ebola epidemics and media scares. The Bay follows a contained outbreak in Claridge, Maryland during the town's 4th July celebrations. It is composed almost entirely of footage captured during the day by various people including a local reporter (who narrates the film), local law enforcement, hospital staff and people at the CDC who are contacted in an attempt to solve the problem.

Whilst Stephen King's novel concerns a superflu and not a parasite as it is in The Bay, there was a lot about the found footage style of Barry Levinson's film that reminded me of a certain section of The Stand in which King traces the various different reactions to the ongoing plague. There are several chapters which work as a series of vignettes, chronicling the spread of the plague itself and tracing infections, another detailing the breakdown of society and a further one which follows the fates of several people who don't feature in the main plot. It's an extremely successful technique that gives the book a more over-reaching feel. In its found footage, The Bay does something similar within the narrow confines of Claridge and beyond to the reactions of the CDC and others trying to contain and silence the problem.

Like The Stand before it hits the big cosmic elements, The Bay traces several main characters through the footage that they have recorded alongside characters who appear maybe once or twice in the entire narrative. As a result, there are a few characters whose story you attach to, but largely, the more horrific stuff comes in those smaller moments, people in isolation who have no idea what is happening to them or why. This is in turn punctuated by the narrator's description of events and her reports from the day itself, in which she was supposed to be covering the 4th July celebrations and not, as she eventually does, a deadly parasitic outbreak.

There a lot of elements at play, both in terms of narrative and theme, but Levinson manages to keep everything together to produce something eerily effective. Hubristic local governments take the most flak, particularly the Mayor who repeatedly ignores the warnings of the oceanographic team investigating high toxicity levels in the bay. Likewise, those talking about shutting down the town and keeping its small nature in perspective. In short, there aren't many people so it's easier to keep quiet. In contrast, there's a quiet heroism to the actions of the police officers and medical staff who are followed throughout the film as they attempt to keep everyone calm and deal with the situation.

It also raises intriguing questions about the way in which humans treat their local environment and how, on occasion, it likes to bite back. The isopods responsible for the deaths of a large amount of Claridge's population evolve because of the dumping of waste into the bay. There is a radiation leak that is also mentioned and the industrial plant nearby that are also mentioned as possible sources of the rapid growth. In an age where environmental decline and climate change are topics still hotly contested and dismissed by too many people in a position to solve the problem, Levinson's particular brand of eco-horror cuts pretty keenly.

The Bay is an effective little film and, like earlier found footage films I've seen this month, a very efficient use of the technique. Plus, the thought of being eaten from the inside out? Bleurgh.

- Becky

You can check out the full list of Shocktober reviews so far here.

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