Inspired by an actual event in which fish and birds inexplicably turned up dead in mass quantities, the movie takes place in Claridge, Md., as the Chesapeake Bay celebrates Independence Day in 2009. Much of the footage we see comes courtesy of TV news intern Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue, Pitch Perfect) via a WikiLeaks-esque site, since the rest was confiscated by the government.
While the small coastal town — population 6,200 — enjoys a veneer of all-American, apple-pie appeal, corrupt practices by its mayor (Frank Deal, The Bourne Legacy) have led to million of pounds of chicken excrement, some of which have swept into the water. An infection breaks out at the worst possible time: in the middle of a crab-eating contest, so emetophobes beware.
Working from newcomer Michael Wallach’s script, Levinson switches from Thompson’s viewpoint to other characters, including a pair of oceanographers, a family of three stranded on a boat, and an ER doctor Skype-ing with the CDC.
Clearly, the giant isopods (y’know, like roly-polies) that pop out of fish and whatnot are meant to be The Bay’s “boo!” shots, but they’re CGI and arrive at all the expected, telegraphed points. The only unnerving sequence arrives when the infection does; not only are innocents running around with ungodly blisters and boils, but the music score is designed to torture the tympanic cavity.
After that, it’s all downhill. The Bay becomes more of a screed than a scare film, and I don’t watch horror movies for sermons, ecological or otherwise. —Rod Lott