The Bay isn’t the best found footage film of 2012 – that was Chronicle, which told its fairly standard teen superhero story by pushing the boundaries of the genre – but unlike Chronicle, The Bay plays fair. The context is an environmental-horror tale of a small town decimated by an (initially) unknown pathogen, framed as footage collected and presented by a rookie reporter who survived the ordeal. All the footage used is plausible; every bit of video feels like it would actually exist in this world.
The movie succeeds at its goals; the “disease” is stomach churning but, fortunately, portrayed with some restraint outside of gruesome early footage. The setting feels like a real small town. Most importantly, there’s a growing sense of dread throughout the picture, a knot of tension in your stomach that the film does well to maintain.
Unfortunately, the framing device limits the film’s ability to tell a story that engages the audience beyond this atmosphere of trepidation. It follows a number of characters but there’s no real character arc here, or emotional journey: just bad things happening to (mostly) good people. And, really, the narrative here is pretty clichéd, even down to the inevitable government cover up.