When director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Bugsy) debuted his new horror movie The Bay at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, he made quite a splash and came up with a runner-up award in the "Midnight Madness" category. The movie, which opens Friday at the Capitol Theatre (and comes to iTunes that same day), centers on the outbreak of a deadly isopod that runs rampant in Chesapeake Bay, killing most of the fish and infecting many of the residents who live in the neighboring town.
"We came to the Toronto Film Festival with no hype at all," the director says via phone from his Connecticut home. "Everything was about Rob Zombie and all the other stuff. When I talked late at night to the audience there to see the film, and I said the isopods in the film were real, you could hear a sound go through the place. They were like, 'Holy God.' The fact is, there are isopods in the water, but not in the Chesapeake. That's the liberty we take — they haven't adapted to brackish water. They are in all the salt water. When you realize they are for real, it scares you even more."
The film was actually inspired by the research Levinson did in 2010 when he was asked to make a documentary about the Chesapeake Bay. While he decided not to pursue a fact-based film about the polluted bay, he says, "the information stayed with me."
"We used the factual information to inform the movie and give it a little more credibility, and that's how it evolved," he says, adding that the references to the isopods and the reaction by the Center Disease Control are realistic.
"The chicken excrement dumped in the bay and the pharmaceuticals dumped in the bay and the fact that dirty water is heading to the bay from the nuclear plant is true," he says. "All that is factual. We gathered that and applied it to the movie to give it a little more credibility."
What's most unusual about the movie is the way it was filmed. Levinson employed a total of 20 different amateur cameras (ranging from iPhones to night vision cameras) to provide footage that would resemble what amateur videographers would have captured had they witnessed the event.
"At times you have to give the camera to the actor because there is no other way to shoot it," he says. "Sometimes you're amazed [by the footage], and sometimes there's nothing there because they forgot to hit the "record" button. You have to work that way. We didn't use high-end cameras and degrade them. I went with the cameras that were available. It's like an archeological dig."
And in making the "dig" into something frightening, Levinson was careful not to jump the shark and have the isopods evolve into some kind of huge, Jaws-like creature.
"I wanted to stay in the area of the credibility. The more credible you can make it, the more frightening it becomes," he says. "If it starts to be these gigantic monsters, then we know we're in the play zone. I wanted to keep it in the creepy zone."