Thursday, November 08, 2012

"The Bay": Could little monsters from an ecologically damaged watershed wipe out a small town in one day?

When I was stationed at Ft. Eustis in 1969 in the Army, the phrase “Back to the Bay” (or “BTTB”) meant loss of “privacy” and probable KP and was a standard buzzword, maybe promoting unit cohesion.
But residents of the DC area know that “The Bay” refers to the beloved Chesapeake Bay and watershed (and Bridge, on the way to the beaches).  Yes, ecological damage to the Bay has been a point of controversy in recent years (and subject matter for the DC Environmental Film Festival).

What’s a little bizarre, though, is that in this film by Barry Levinson, that is – “The Bay”, in boldface – becomes the source of rapidly escalating horror and local apocalypse.  This 88-minute film pays homage to much bigger treats in the past – including “Jaws”, “Alien”, “Night of the Living Dead”, “L.A. Zombie”,  and even “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. 

But the reason I went to see the film was the narrative style – the story is told through the eyes of a young amateur blogger-journalist Donna (Kether Donohue).  The local business interests  (and the puppet mayor Stockman (Frank Deal) and the government are so scared of her story getting out that they shut down her blog (or get her service provider to do so).  Somehow, she alone survives the carnage and gets her soap box back, though.  Electronic Frontier Foundation will love this little movie.

The story is told through grainy cameos, interview clips, and spliced narratives, much in the style of docudrama.  In the 1990s, this sort of “reality docudrama” proved to be a pretty effective vehicle for low-budget horror, with films like “The Blair Witch Project” and the lesser known (but even better) “The Last Broadcast” (the latter film was about the Jersey Pines Devil).  The narrative is rather random, and there is no way that Donna could personally have witnessed some of the peripheral (but effective) characters like the oceanographer and his girl friend.  And she hardly could have survived filming in the local hospital, all of whose staff succumbs to the “isopod” parasite like everyone else. (She does have a frustrating experience with the 911 operator, just as the doctors in the hospital find the CDC rather standoffish, as if out of 'Dr. Strangelove".)  
The story takes place on Saturday, July 4, 2009, at an Independence Day celebration in the Bay town of Clairidge, Maryland (which does not exists, but Oxford would be a good approximation – I’ve biked there).  Let’s mention here that the film was actually shot in Georgetown, S.C.  Donna gives us some flashbacks to the previous May with some mysterious deaths and disappearances that suggest a coming ecological scandal.  Bullsharks this far up The Bay?  A likely story.  And, by the way, fish don’t bite other fish of the same species (not even the Miami Marlins). 

Things get out of hand quickly when a fat lady gets out of the water and run downs by a crab eating contest on the shore.  People are horrified to see her covered with boils.  The contestants start puking. Very quickly, a lot of other people are getting the boils, and this infection is spreading fast.  It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that by nightfall the whole town will be littered with half-eaten corpses, as will the hallways in the local hospital. 

The “epidemic” is caused by a parasite (a crustacean like the common sea lice) that explodes into a full-sized isopod (maybe two inches long) quickly and eats the victim from the inside.  Could something like this happen because of ecological damage?  Could 700 deaths in a small town be concealed forever by government and could the town be cut off forever?  Not very likely, except for maybe a nuclear power plant disaster (and that idea gets mentioned). 
What could happen, and maybe make the subject of another horror movie, is a contagious flesh-eating bacteria (and that would be really horrible), or maybe a sudden outbreak of Ebola virus or a hemorrhagic fever (spread by body secretions and blood but not through the air – unless you believe the 1987 story about Ebola Reston). If you survive something like this, you could be horribly disfigured, physically ruined, and challenged as to how to get someone to love you. 
I’ve reviewed some other movies about pandemics on my “Films about major threats to freedom” blog (like “Contagion”, Sept. 9, 2011), “Carriers” (Dec. 7, 2010), “Thirst” (Korean, March 16, 2010), “Quarantine” (Oct. 11, 2008), and “Blindness” (Oct. 3, 2008).  I reviewed “The Bay” here (on the regular Movies blog) because the “threat” didn’t seem credible, nor did it have to be.  This movie seemed more like an experiment in horror filmmaking, and that is interesting enough.

The film is distributed by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate (with the horror trademark), big corporate distributors (and, sorry, TWC wasn’t in on this one) – but then why did this play in only one theater in the DC area?  That was the West End Cinema in Washington.  The screen was small, but the digital projection was perfect.  (I like Regal’s “Think big or go home!”) There was a fair crowd for a weeknight, and some interesting discussion before the show started about how badly Romney had lost the election.

The official site is here

The show was preceded by a little short film about the Documentary Center at the George Washington University, link here. I believe that the center offers a documentary film school, and I will check into this further.

Wikipedia attribution link for isopod parasitizing picture, link here. Other picture (mine), inlet from Bay at Cambridge, MD (sounds like "Clairidge", doesn't it). 

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