‘The Bay’ awash in bad choices
‘The Bay’ awash in bad choices

Pop psychology will tell you that horror movies often reflect timely, underlying fears percolating throughout society. Just take a look at the horror flicks of the 1950s and it’s easy to tell that people then were worried about nuclear radiation. Really, really worried. Giant ants worried.

It takes about 10 seconds into the very mediocre, found-footage horror movie “The Bay” to see that it is playing on our current fears of pollution in the environment.

More specifically hormone runoff from a chicken plant winds up causing supersized aquatic parasites to descend upon a coastal Maryland town and begin eating residents from both the outside and the inside. Ick.

Setting aside the myriad of problems with this movie — the high levels of implausibility, a lack of central characters to care about, the total absence of any sort of narrative structure, and the preachiness, my God, the preachiness — there is something incredibly fascinating about “The Bay.”

This unimpressive horror movie was directed by Oscar-winner Barry Levinson. Horror is typically a genre where up-and-coming directors cut their teeth (see Sam Rami) or where established directors come to push the medium in exciting new directions (see Stanley Kubrick).

I mean this is the guy who directed “Diner,” “The Natural,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Rain Man,” “Sleepers” and “Wag the Dog.” These are some seminal movies of the last 30 years.

I’m not trying to argue that Levinson is above making a clunker (his film “What Just Happened” was one of the worst movies of 2008), but what is a director of his talent doing making a movie that looks like it should be showing on a Friday night on the Syfy network?

Judging from interviews, Levinson originally set out to make a documentary about pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and thought it might be more interesting to make his point via a horror movie. Fair enough.

But he then made two fatal mistakes that pretty much derail the whole movie. The first was going the found-footage route, a la “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity.” This is rapidly becoming a creative dry-well, especially when it comes to horror, and it really boxes a director in by limiting the camera to the point-of-view of the characters.

Unless you’ve got a really cool concept or an original way of executing it, found-footage movies are pretty much played out.

The second mistake Levinson makes is that he’s not really sure what kind of horror movie he is making. At first, it seems to be a straightforward monster movie with a seaside community being terrorized by crawling critters on the Fourth of July (what’s up “Jaws” homage).

But then things jump around to the horror that comes from unknowingly ingesting parasites to the horror of chaos and people behaving shockingly when all hell breaks loose.

There are several unnerving scenes in “The Bay,” but they never seem to be related to each other, or really anything for that matter, and wind up just being disturbing for disturbing’s sake.

It kind of feels like Levinson figured that found-footage – horror – environment = coherent movie and didn’t realize how wrong he was until it was too late. In the end, that might be the scariest thing about this movie.

“The Bay” is rated R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, and language.

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