The Screaming Minis: The Bay

crustacean nation

crustacean nation

The Bay
Director: Barry Levinson
Released:
2012
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Jane McNeill, and Christopher Denham
Running time: 84 minutes
Genre: Horror

I saw The Bay as a mystery, pre-release screening at an all night horror movie marathon this past October. The circumstances of that viewing were unusual and not ideal for enjoying the movie. I didn’t know what I was watching until the end credits, so I didn’t know what to expect, and I’d just finished watching Slither,  so I was full up on parasites  for the evening. I didn’t want to be unfair, so I skipped reviewing the movie until its release on disc. After another viewing, sadly, my opinion hasn’t changed.

News coverage of thousands of dead fish floaters and bird corpses, stories that were reported on, precede a close up of one girl, Donna Thompson, who intros herself and speaks forebodingly about the story that wasn’t covered, that was covered up. On an unusually warm Independence Day in the small, bay-side town of Claridge, Maryland, cub reporter Donna was there to cover the crab races, the Crab Eating Spectacular, all the usual festivities, and interview little kids and local celebs. She ends up covering much more. That footage, originally suppressed by the government and now leaked by the whistle-blowing govleaks.org, along with recovered cellphone, security cam, skype calls, etc., make up the bulk of the film. What the government didn’t want you to see, what Donna has to expose, is that, on that July 4th, there was something in the town of Claridge, in the water of the bay, inside the fish, in the water from Claridge’s desalination plant, the water they drank and played in. It was inside the people of Claridge. And that something … was chicken shit.

I love eco horror. I also love Found Footage. You’d think an eco horror mockumentary by an acclaimed filmmaker would be a slam dunk for me, but The Bay is less than the sum of its parts. Levinson is an Oscar-nominated writer, Oscar-winning director, but this does not feel like a movie from an A-list Hollywood director. The performances largely don’t work. The movie’s believability hinges on Kether Donohue’s portrayal of Donna, but she’s just not news reporter material. We’re talking Mark Wahlberg-as-science-teacher level of unbelievability. And the writing is just bad, leading to events that feel contrived. Cops walk alone into dark houses, rush into danger with no back up, flip out and go murderous, shooting healthy people for no reason. A couple strolls through a town full of corpses with their baby, instead of getting back on their boat and keeping the baby safe. I can forgive slips like these in a movie that doesn’t strive to look like reality, but this is supposed to be a documentary.

The “chicken shit” thing damages the credibility, too. Claridge is being eaten alive by mutated isopods (parasites that eat fish tongues–I’m sure you’ve seen the picture). It was chicken shit that caused the mutation, mountains of chicken shit full of steroids from a chicken factory that runs off into the bay. It’s so heavy-handed with the chicken shit eco message that the only thing I can liken the chicken shit to is the Tromaville Nuclear Power Plant looming in the background of every Troma movie. And that is exactly what The Bay calls it … chicken shit. A lot. I don’t know how many times it says “chicken shit,” but it’s enough to make a drinking game. (Drink twice the one time someone calls it chicken excrement!) It also reuses bits of previously shown footage. I guess it’s meant to drive points home, but it’s just repetitive. It feels like unnecessary padding. I don’t need to see the clip of the mayor drinking a glass of water, saying how good that water is three separate times. Once was enough. All this adds to the Troma vibe. My first viewing, as far as a half an hour in, I was still waiting for it to turn into a comedy about hybrid chicken-sharks–that would’ve been great! I can forgive repetitive, silly language in a schlocky film, but The Bay is played straight.

It’s also infested with the already cliche crap that pulls you right out of so many other Found Footage flicks: too much camera glitch, forced curse words injected into the dialog to make it sound real, arguments that don’t seem believable, fights about why someone is continuing to film,  characters explaining to the camera why they’re filming (posterity/show the world!), etc. I forgive these problems when I’m watching a movie made by a few noobs with a handicam and $10,000, but an experienced, acclaimed director/screenwriter with a healthy budget doesn’t get the same leeway.

It’s like Levinson was making a serious movie that he didn’t take seriously, like he was just pumping out product that he didn’t feel was worth a real effort. He was slumming and was fine with tossing out a movie with the same old imperfections we’re used to. That sucks, because The Bay had potential. It can be really gruesome and tense. There’s a few super effective scares and skin-crawly moments, including one scene involving a fish and a hidden isopod that rivals Exorcist III’s gliding-nun-with-shears and Signs alien-walking-past-the-hedges scenes. The rashes and blisters on the infected people are pretty sick. Unfortunately, none of the actors sell the appliances. You never get a sense of it being anything other than make up. I can forgive just about any problem if the gore is crazy enough and some of the gore in The Bay is truly gnarly, but not enough to save it.

It isn’t a terrible movie, but it is a disappointment. Too goofy to be serious, too serious to be fun, it fails as schlock, as a serious message film, and as a mockmumentary. It vacillates between trying to be Piranha and trying to be Outbreak and fails at being either. It’s a mixed up, b-grade, mediocre mess and from an A-List artist, that’s something I can’t forgive.

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the posters show traces of carnal violence: april 15 – may 14

A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.

Bill:

Fisty:

After Dark HorrorFest Recaps, Part I: Lake Mungo, Nightmare Man, Dying Breed, Frontière(s)

In celebration of After Dark’s annual HorrorFest and their 8 Films to Die For, we’re pounding out a couple of shortie omnibus reviews of eight releases from HorrorFests past.

still waters

Lake Mungo

Alice, a pretty but increasingly despondent 16 year-old, cannot breathe under water.  Sadly, this means she’s likely dead when she disappears during a family trip to a reservoir where she and her brother were swimming.  After driving home backwards (their car was acting screwy and would only go in reverse) and daughterless (while the authorities searched for Alice–or what was left of her,) the Palmer family wait for any word about their girl.  She does turn up but, as I mentioned previously, she makes a very poor fish and her father is forced to identify her body.  Before they are even able to begin the grieving process, the walls of the Palmer house begin to bleed and long dead corpses surface in their pool.  No, I’m kidding, but strange things do happen.  Alice is sensed, even seen, and cameras begin to pick up strange, eerie images that may or may not be proof of something supernatural.  With media attention focused on them and a psychic attempting to help, they begin learning some of the secrets that haunted Alice, and why Alice may be haunting them.

Part of Horr0rfest 2010, Lake Mungo is an Aussie mockumentary that tells the story of Alice and the Palmer family through interviews with the family, friends, assorted individuals involved with them, and the recordings and pictures they capture.  It’s kind of like Paranormal Activity if Ken Burns had made it, only way better than that sounds.

Fisty: This wasn’t quite what I expected, which was a pretty straightforward ghost story mockumentary. A lot of horror films these days rely upon a final twist to add depth and interest to what are often otherwise staid genre stories, and Lake Mungo has its share of twists, but Joel Anderson has crafted a thoughtful and sometimes beautiful meditation on grief and loss from the various turns the Palmer family’s story takes. Alice had secrets, but they’re not all what might be expected. As the documentary progresses, our skepticism ebbs and flows from the evidence that comes in, sometimes seemingly proving Alice’s existence beyond death, and sometimes disproving it entirely. By the very end, I was left with a feeling of profound sadness–and the worst case of chickenskin yet from a movie. It literally gave me chills.

Bill: Spine-tingling! That’s not hype either. Really. There was a few moments in Lake Mungo where I was so creeped out that I felt what was almost like an electric current run through me. Not from any jump scare either. There is only one real jump scare in the movie that I can recall. This intensity comes from pure, palpable dread. Anderson will let you know through the interviews that you’re going to see … something … but it’s never quite as easy to spot as you’d think, so they have to  slowly zoom in, your eyes searching all the time, until you land on the part of the image that just shouldn’t be there, and you feel the goosebumps spread up your arms. Everyone feels so real, their sorrow so genuine, that they raise the sense of reality of the whole affair, so that the things, the manifestations, if that’s what they are, that appear in the photos and videos seem like so more than just a fiction. This may be the only mockumentary I’ve ever seen where my suspension of disbelief was absolute. The movie made me afraid to use cameras. It’s sad and it’s frightening. Just watch it.

And a quick aside: There have been a lot of really good movies coming out of Australialand the past few years. Keep it up, Aussies. It’s great.

dude looks like a lady

Nightmare Man

Ellen believes a demon-thing called the Nightmare Man that resembles an African fertility mask she bought to help her conceive with her lousy Latin lover is haunting her. Everyone else thinks she’s schizophrenic. Bad news, Ellen: If you think a tacky mask will help you get pregnant, you are indeed mental. While husband William is driving her to an institution conveniently located in the woods miles from anywhere, they run out of gas. Doting husband leaves Ellen alone in the car in the woods to go fetch some, and that’s when shit gets real. Well, the Nightmare Man appears to. Suddenly, Ellen’s paranoia coalesces into a hideous mask-faced assassin who chases her through the woods with a knife, and is vulnerable to a good nards kneeing. In a nearby vacation house, former college chums (and lovers) Mia and Trinity are rusticating with their current beaux, drinking wine and playing Truth or Dare, until Ellen shows up with the Nightmare Man in hot pursuit. When Mia’s boytoy Ed bites it, she busts out a crossbow and then a rifle, and is prepared to defend herself and her friends from the demon outside. Unfortunately, Ellen soon reveals a much worse horror inside …

Directed by schlock jock, Rolfe Kanefsky, and starring the greatest ass working in current B-horror, Tiffany Shepis, Nightmare Man was selected as one of the 8 Films to Die For in Horrorfest 2007.

Fisty: I was so pissed at Nightmare Man by two minutes in, and my mood did not significantly improve until people started actually dying. I thought it was an interesting idea poorly executed. And by “poorly executed,” I mean it was damn awful. The straight-to-video, shot on camcorder look emphasized just how cheap the whole thing was, and the acting and story were dreadful. The pseudo-sexy non-tension between Mia and Trinity (gag) was lame, as was the clumsy, hamfisted use of Mia as a sexual object; there are myriad ways to convey sexiness without having a woman dress and pose like a crappy stripper working the third stage for dollar bills. That first half seemed more like a Skinemax feature than a horror movie, as it created no sense of either anticipation or dread–except the anticipation of it finally ending and dread that there was so much left to get through. But, I will say that at the very end, past all the logical improbabilities and lame duck attempts at naughty humor, it did get kinda funny in a very over the top manner. If Kanefsky had just stuck with that ludicrous style through the whole film, it would have fared better.

Bill: Fisty is right on with all of her criticisms, but I’m going to be way more forgiving, because none of it stopped me from enjoying Nightmare Man. It never really hits me that there is someone in the world named Rolfe until I see the name pop up in one of the guy’s movies. It makes me lol.  So, for me, this flick was bringing the lulz from the very start. It’s an abominably stupid film with dialog so bad, coupled with acting so terrible, that a lot of it seems as if the actors are reading their lines stiffly from the  poorly translated subtitles on a Chinese bootleg DVD of the movie they are actually acting in. It’s also full of dumb little errors and idiotic behavior, like when Mia, armed with a rifle, sees the Nightmare Man and runs back into the house without taking a shot at him with the loaded rifle that she went out specifically to get for the very purpose of shooting him. All of this sends me into a lollering tizzy. I even lmao‘d at a few of the intended laughs, maybe because I have the mentality of a 15 year-old. Speaking of … Tiffany Shepis.  Hominahominahomina! I actually became a fan of her after seeing her in (and out) of a silver jumpsuit in another of Kanesky’s movies that I like, The Hazing. She was the best thing in the movie, though Bull from Night Court was pretty awesome as well. Nightmare Man is Z-grade schlock, at about the same level as softcore com-porns like Genie in a String Bikini and The Bare Wench Project, only with less sex and a little more horror.  Not as good as The Hazing, but I was still rolfemao.  See what I did there?

having pie and eating it too

Dying Breed

Eight years after her sister, Ruth, drowned while searching for the supposedly extinct Tasmanian tiger, Nina returns to the island to continue her dead sister’s work, taking along three friends: boyfriend Matt, his childhood friend Jack, and Jack’s girlfriend Rebecca.  The farther into the wilds of Tasmania they go, the more like Deliverance their trip becomes, encountering (and stupidly getting into trouble with) the increasingly strange and sinister locals.  As they hunt for the tiger, an even more dangerous carnivore begins hunting them, the twisted, inbred descendant of Tasmania’s  legendary cannibal convict, Alexander Pierce.

An Aussie box office flop, Dying Breed was given a second chance as part of the third year of the After Dark Horrorfest in 2009.

Bill: There’s a scene in Silver Bullet that shows the drunken, white trash father of little Marty Coslaw’s future potential girlfriend sitting down to watch some good old pro wrasslin’.  As he’s taking his seat, on TV, one wrassler catches a mighty blow to the dangly bits and Daddy DrunkTrash grabs his junk and calls out, “Oh! Ohhh, that hurts mah parts!”  No one’s balls get pummeled in Dying Breed, but there are a few great gags that got a similar visceral response out of me.  I “oooh”-ed, “ow”e-d, “oh”-ed and “ugh”-ed at nasty flesh rippings, naked butchered corpses, heads in bear traps, arrows through faces, and an awesome slithery eel-thing popping out of a dead chick’s mouth. Nothing I haven’t seen before, sure, but it’s done here with a minimum of digital effects.  No bit-&-byte splatter or slow-mo to detract from it’s effectiveness.  That’s pretty much Dying Breed in a nutshell:  Standard backwoods hicksploitation cannibal story, but done damn well, the way it ought to be. There are a few nice surprises and twists, however, and some familiar faces for horror fans. Leigh Whannell from the Saw series is in here, as is Nathan Phillips from Snakes on a Plane and Wolf Creek.  Tying the story of the movie into the real legend of Alexander Pierce and the search for the Tasmanian tiger was a great move.  It just makes it that much better for folklore and cryptozoology nuts like myself.  Dying Breed may just be the last in a long line of movies about city slickers going where they don’t belong, but it sure does got a purty mouth. Squeeeeeal!

Fisty: I love Tasmanian tigers, and pretty much my favorite thing about Dying Breed was the chance to see my favorite cryptids prancing about–even though I then got all drunkenly teary-eyed about them being (likely) extinct. Assholes! That’s not to say that’s the only thing I liked about it, however. Jody Dwyer handles genre conventions aptly, pounding out a reliable little tale of City and Country Mice meeting … and eating one another. It’s a very slick, professional-looking movie, with a gorgeous setting that’s used beautifully. Two caveats: I object to Dwyer’s having some of the cannibals just leap right into chomping on a live or barely dead person’s face. Cannibals usually butcher and cook their meat, just like anyone else, because they’re people–whether they be pescetarians, or chomping on Tofurkey. It’s a cheap way to emphasize the bestiality of character that actually displays itself easily through most of the other actions taken by the cannibals. So fuck that. Also, the very end–one of the aforementioned twist endings–is just silly. Dwyer tried to cram like, fifteen different endings into one, and the movie as a whole suffers. I was really digging it until then. I’d still recommend it.

nothing very exciting

Frontier(s)

Panic on the streets of London Paris!  Cars are burning, people are being hosed, violent protesters are throwing rocks and being beaten by fascist riot squads, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!  Or at least that’s what we see in the stock footage of riots that kicks off the movie.  Taking advantage of the chaos, the pregnant Yasmine, her brother Semi, and three other guys that you won’t care about, being a bunch of  opportunistic thieves, have stolen some cash or something.  I don’t know.  They have a bag of money and cops are shooting at them, so I guess that’s what it was.  On the run, with Semi shot and bleeding all over the place, they split up and make plans to meet up at a hostel off in the countryside, on their way out of the country.  How were they supposed to know that they were running right into the French version of Motel Hell, run by a family of cannibal Nazis?

Frontière(s) was supposed to have been one of the 8 Films to Die For in the 2007 Horrorfest, but it didn’t make the main eight due to it’s NC-17 rating, but was still released on DVD under the After Dark banner.

Bill: I’d heard this was supposed to be some hardcore, ultraviolent, cringe-worthy stuff, but I was more than a little let down.  With the exception of the oven scene, where one poor fella gets roasted alive (pretty awesome,) there was nothing in Frontier(s) that I hadn’t already seen done better or taken further in the movies it seemed to be trying to crib from, namely Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of 1000 Corpses, The Hills Have Eyes, The Descent … even House of Wax … pretty much every mid-2000s horror flick with a bit of a mean streak.  There are even elements in the film that I would swear were taken from Inside and [rec], even though both of those were released in the same year, even months after Frontier(s).  It played like a Best of 2003-2007 montage, only without really using the best bits.  Still, I could forgive the movie for just giving me more of the same, so long as there was something else to like about it, but it isn’t cleverly written, has no real twists, no real nudity to speak of  (a crime when it has a two-couple sex scene, one topless girl, and a hosing down sequence,) is completely devoid of humor or beauty, and doesn’t have a single interesting character in the film.  Even the Nazi cannibals were forgettable and plain.  How is that even possible?!  And the action was near impossible to follow because of all the extreme use of quick cuts and shaky cam.  It’s bloody and it’s violent, but not outrageously, shockingly, disturbingly, creatively, memorably or even entertainingly so.  A solid, “Meh,” though I was slightly amused by the last half hour of the movie, because of Karina Testa’s use of a spot on impersonation of a post-Parkinson’s Michael J. Fox.

Fisty: It’s starts so promisingly and then gets so … not. And uninteresting. It really did seem to me like three different movies mishmashed together, and spiced up with bits appropriated from a thousand other movies. There’s the crime thriller with racial commentary at the beginning, the city dwellers run afoul of country folk torture porn of the middle, and then toward the end we see splashes of a really interesting horror movie built on warped family dynamics. The sibling rivalry between brothers Goetz, Karl, and Hans, as well as the sisters Gilberte and Klaudia (and seriously? Estelle Lefébure’s Gilberte was a strung out hag. Amélie Daure was way more interesting and attractive; we needed more of her), is mostly great, very well done–but not enough of it!–and the moments between Eva and Yasmine are the only ones of beauty in the entire film. I would have enjoyed that movie way more. I did like Karina Testa’s Yasmine, however, and thought she nicely portrayed the effects of shock and constant terror in a way that neatly revisited Marilyn Burns’ Sally. Only for completists.