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Hot off its festival run that included a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and American premiere at the New York Film Festival, the eco-horror thriller The Bay made its mark at New York Comic Con, where director Barry Levinson sat down for a panel hosted by the Nerdist's Chris Hardwick. The film is only the second horror feature Levinson has ever helmed, and like his first, Sphere, terror comes from the ocean, or more specifically the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Maryland. Here a batch of gruesome parasites called isopods is eating the local fish from the inside out, a gruesome fate that soon spreads to the human population.
Levinson appeared on the panel alone, which made for a slightly strange chemistry as Hardwick hovered above him at the podium while they had a pretty casual though strange conversation. But Levinson was game for Comic Con crowds, and the event began by screening the film's first trailer.
When the lights came up, the audience was abuzz over the flick's freaky outbreak plotline. But then Levinson threw us all into a stunned silence when he revealed 85% of the premise is factual. As a Baltimore, Maryland, native, Levinson said he was approached by neighbors who encouraged him to make a doc about the shocking fact that 40% of the bay's wild-life was dead. Levinson decided adding a dash of horror fiction to disturbing facts would be more impactful, and so we have The Bay.
What's real? Well, for starters: isopods, the gross wiggling parasites in the trailer. According to Levinson these ghastly little "sea lice" swim into fish's gills, then eat it from the inside out. One will even eat the fish's tongue, then take the tongue's place as an "eating mechanism" until the fish dies. While these parasites start out quite small, they can grow to be as long as 2.5 feet, Levinson told the revolted crowd. "I love horror films and I love sci-fi films…but it started with the Bay being 40% dead," he shared.
Hardwick shivered, then introduced the first of two exclusive clips. In one, two scientists on a boat cut open a fish crawling with isopods, which the male scientist says are, "one of the world's oldest creatures." When the lights come back up Levinson is quick to share that those were real isopods wriggling in the actor's tweezers. Next up is a clip of a teen girl video-chatting with a friend, showing her weird blisters—big bulbous, yellow pustules—that have cropped up all over her body. The audience in the theatre is audibly disgusted.
As you may have noticed from the trailer, The Bay is shot in the found footage style, a device that proved a challenge to Levinson, but one that he was exhilarated by. He explained to the crowd how the last scene was shot by the teen actress using a camera phone. She was left in the set room by herself for a few minutes, where she improvised the scene, then came out to pass off the camera to Levinson who'd watch her take, as there was no monitor attached to her device.
Levinson's team experimented with over 100 different cameras during screen tests, and ultimately 21 different digital recording platforms were chosen for the production, including an iPhone. Intrigued by the way social networking and the ease of posting video to the Internet has shaped our culture, Levinson brought these elements into telling the 8-9 different character arcs to make his found footage flick feel like an archaeological dig, with various artifacts uncovered from all over the town's web output.
While there's a clear attempt at an environmental message within The Bay, the crowd who had gathered for a string of horror movie panels, mostly wanted to hear about the monsters. When one audience member asked if the isopods turn people into zombies—as the trailer implies—Levinson firmly denied that. He said that the infected are still people. They may look like monsters, but in the instance of the ghoulish woman who seems to attack the lady in the car at the trailer's end, Levinson explains she was just reaching out for help. Still, Levinson urged the audience to Google image search isopods, to which a visibly freaked out Hardwick quipped, "I'm not going to do that!"
The Bay opens November 2nd in theaters and On Demand.