If you’re of a morbid mind-set, horror can happen anywhere: a suburban Nevada home (Paranormal Activity 4), a fast-food drive-through lane (Final Destination 3), a red-tag supermarket (The Mist). But isn’t it scariest when the whole world outside turns out to be the problem? The Bay, a real creepfest, joins the suggestive company of eco-terror entries like Hitchcock’s The Birds and 1979’s Prophecy, which is about Talia Shire running away from chemically mutated bears. (Try it only if you’ve got too much time.) The good news is that this new movie is much more frightening than any plot description would imply. On a July 4th weekend, Marylanders celebrating on Chesapeake Bay find themselves suddenly itching and erupting in sores. Soon come the icky flesh-eating isopods, borne by steroid-saturated spill water. Suffice it to say, the barbecue’s off.
Who could be orchestrating this jittery police footage and iPhone shrieking? (The movie uses the found-footage gag to exceptional success.) The director of Rain Man, of course: Barry Levinson has never been a bumps-in-the-night kind of guy, but he’s committed himself to what initially feels like a slight project. The result is a genre film made with exactly the elements that are often lacking: dry, realistic performances, an expert sense of pacing and—because Levinson can—a thrillingly forward indictment of big agriculture and the political forces that would pollute communities for quick jobs. (The Bay’s weaselly mayor makes the one in Jaws look noble.) The body count is massive, the gore voluminous—yet at stake is a conceivable American future.
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