Isopod-People: The townsfolk of Claridge display various stages of the deadly parasitic infection.
He abandoned the project, but just couldn’t get the statistics and concepts
out of his head. “A couple of weeks later, I was thinking about all of the facts that were pretty
frightening and thought, ‘What would happen if I took all of that information and did it through storytelling?’ Put all of the facts into the story, with characters that the audience can relate to. Then all of this information can be tied to them and that might be the way to really engage and frighten the audience. I think it en- hances the themes in some way.” That was the foundation for The Bay, which went ahead when some of the pro-
ducers of Insidious and the Paranormal Activity series came on board. Writer Michael Wallach was enlisted to pen the script, setting the story in the normally quiet seaside town of Claridge during its annual Fourth of July celebrations. When the locals start experiencing agonizing internal pain and horrible rashes, it’s dis- covered that the water has been tainted by a type of parasite known as an isopod. The small crustaceans usually just eat sea creatures from the inside out, but thanks to a mutation caused by agricultural pollution, they’re now growing at alarming rates and have become exceptionally hardy and aggressive. Their eggs get into the drinking water and their offspring find homes in the human body. Amateur reporter Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) starts filming the events in order to keep a record of what’s happening in Claridge, even as mayor John Stockman (Frank Deal) refuses to ac- knowledge that anything is wrong. (Levinson acknowledges that those narrative nods to Jaws are intentional). Though anchored by Donna’s segments, Levinson’s movie
is a compilation of found footage that includes everything from scientists conducting aquatic studies, to Skype con- versations between panicked doctors, to tourist iPhone vids. The film’s conceit is that it was all edited together after a cover-up, so that the information could be made public at last. “About 90 percent of the movie is based on fact information, which is really
frightening,” says Levinson, who says that the story just spilled out of him. “I could- n’t just start a movie by saying, ‘I want to scare the shit out of you.’ Wouldn’t know how, but this one seemed to evolve there naturally.” Once Levinson got into the mechanics and structure of horror, the opportunity to manipulate audiences inevitably appealed to his instincts as a filmmaker.
“The reality is that all these things come down to timing,” he says. “Whether
it’s a scare or a laugh or a dramatic beat, it’s all timing. That is inherent in the nature of filmmaking, no matter what you’re doing.” And even though the political subtext and commentary of the piece remained,
Levinson was mindful to not let it overwhelm the storytelling. He also never allowed himself to forget that the movie was supposed to be entertainment, not heavy- handed proselytizing. (“If you have something to talk about afterwards, great,” he notes. “But I think that’s just part of the piece, not the whole thing.”) That said, The Bay’s monsters are effective because they’re real, if exaggerated. The isopods are actual water-dwelling creatures, which belong to the same scientific order as woodlice and pill bugs. There are even images of them from actual news reports, which add an- other layer of reality to the movie. “They are what they are. We didn’t make them up,” says Levin-
son. “In the movie, when you see the guy pulling apart the fish’s gills that are filled with them, saying, ‘This is what we call sea lice.’ Well, those were real. We caught that fish while we were shooting and didn’t expect to find them. They go in through the gills of a fish and then eat their way out. They eat the tongue first and then become an eating mechanism within the fish until it dies and they go to another one.” While isopods aren’t known to infect humans, Levinson points
out that they can grow from microscopic creatures into the fright- eningly large sizes seen in the movie. “They can be up to two feet long. When we show the picture of the two-foot isopod and say it looks like it was Photoshopped, that’s an actual picture we
got off Google. The ones that you see climbing out of people’s mouths at the end of the movie are the size they normally become.” The isopods and the damage they cause to their victims are undeniably dis-
gusting – imagine cockroach-like water bugs worming their way through your in- sides – and Levinson slowly escalates his gore gags over the course of the film, beginning with disease-style body horror before showing isopods bursting through human flesh towards the climax.