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'The Bay'

'The Bay' is horror with an eco twist

The Bay

Jane McNeill in "The Bay." Lionsgate

Shot on a portable video camera, the pseudo documentary “The Blair Witch Project” was one of the most profitable movies of all time. As webcams, smartphones and surveillance video became more common, “Paranormal Activity” struck gold when it took found-footage horror in a new direction: indoors. But few consumers could name the directors of those films, or of the similar flicks “Cloverfield” and “Chronicle.” In this relatively new genre, a recognizable style is the enemy of the illusion.

Now an Oscar-winning director is jumping into these waters. Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”) has essentially been off the map since “Wag the Dog” satirized the scandals of the Clinton era. For his latest stab at relevance, he returns to his fruitful origins in Maryland, which yielded his breakout film “Diner” and the TV series “Homicide.”

“The Bay” is an eco-themed horror flick set in the fictional seaside town of Claridge. That’s where journalism student Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) got her first on-camera assignment, to film fluff segments about the Fourth of July festivities in 2009. But as Donna recounts to the camera three years later, things went horribly wrong, and she is presenting footage that the government tried to suppress.

Claridge had the raw ingredients for a toxic cocktail: a poultry processing facility and a desalination plant that funneled chicken-fouled seawater to the town’s faucets. In the course of a single day, seaborne parasites took over the town, as documented in news footage, cop cams, surveillance videos and Skype chats.

On a creepshow level, Levinson delivers the goods, with icky little insects slithering from the innards of the zombified townsfolk and terrified survivors struggling to contact the authorities. But while the various video sources give the outbreak a documentary realism, Levinson occasionally violates his cinema-verite premise with Hollywood-style background music and multicamera reaction shots.

“The Bay” is better than a shallow exercise, but crabby horror fans may have preferred that Levinson took a real plunge.

What “The Bay” • Two and a half stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 1:24 • Content Disturbing violent content, bloody images and language • Where Chase Park Plaza

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Joe Williams is the film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Two million fish washed ashore. One thousand blackbirds dropped from the sky. On July 4, 2009 a deadly menace swept through the quaint seaside…

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