As a rule, I do not like Found Footage movies.
It started as a unique artistic tool to create a certain amount of grittiness and the illusion of reality to certain types of movies. Since then, the move market has been inundated with an absurd number of movies all with the same style. I do not like it because many movies use the Found Footage concept as a crutch and a cheat. You don’t have to use good editing or camera technique because the people holding the camera wouldn’t. And it’s often used to try to spice up what would otherwise be a mediocre movie.
In practice, however, there are several Found Footage movies that I have begrudgingly discovered I liked. Some I like in spite of the Found Footage component--The Last Exorcist--and some I like because they figured out a way to use the technique in an interesting and/or impressive way--Chronicle.
In that latter category, add the movie The Bay.
This is one of those movies that I didn’t know anything about and only added because Netflix said I’d give 4 stars.
When I started it, I was extremely disappointed to discover the film was ANOTHER Found Footage movie. Like we don’t have enough of those goddamned things. But, despite my already being put off by the format, I pushed on. I wanted to at least give it a chance. And I’m glad I did. what I thought was just going to be another Found Footage movie was actually a mockumentary-expose-styled horror film about political corruption and environmental disaster.
The cleverness of The Bay comes from the structure. The film starts very narration heavy, with a girl on a webcam infodumping a ton of set-up and history. She doesn’t disappear completely, but once the scene has been set, the film does use her more sparingly, usually to provide additional details about the film clips we’re seeing.
The Bay also figures out a clever way to avoid the “Why is he still filming this shit?” problem that many Found Footage movies do by using multiple cameras from different characters as well as a variety of sources for B-roll footage. They use a girl’s Face Time chat, police dash cams, security cameras, home videos, audio recordings a la news coverage of 9-1-1 calls, and even photographs with narration. While I’ve seen a few Found Footage films try the “filmmakers killed making a documentary, here’s the uncut footage” route, this takes “raw” footage from all over incident and puts it together to form a narrative. This film feels like a thorough documentary.
The film isn’t just impressive on a technique level, though. The actual “monster” set up is pretty scary as well.
The folks living in this small New England town are engaged in some crab festival when people start bleeding out of their skin, experiencing strange swelling in their abdomens, and developing disgusting blisters and sores. When the police start finding bodies all over the city, their first thought is that a serial killer is loose because the people are missing limbs, tongues, etc. However, they soon link the dead bodies with the spike in sick people rushing to the ER. The source of the sickness? Everyone was exposed to the local water.
Because of the different types of videos, this movie almost feels like a mashup of others. A young couple attacked by something in the water, which is captured on film, feels like a scene from Jaws, whereas the video of a woman slowly wandering through the middle of a crowded pier, bleeding from her skin and screaming for help as dozens of people simply stand by and watch feels more like something out of an infection movie, like The Stand.
The film does a good job of laying out the mystery and doling out the information of exactly what is in the water, intercutting footage from the day of infection with footage of two scientists studying the bay a month or so earlier and a doctor at the hospital working with the CDC to get to the bottom of things.
All in all, after getting over my initial annoyance that this film was found footage, I found this is one of those movies where the format actually aided the film, creating a very unique and interesting experience that justified their decision to use this technique, the same way The Matrix justifies using slow motion action sequences.
If you’re looking for a movie to watch this Halloween, I highly recommend The Bay, which is on Netflix currently.