‘The Bay’ Review

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Film Pulse Score

Release Date: November 2, 2012 (Limited)
Current Showing via OnDemand Platforms
Director: Barry Levinson
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse Score: 1/10

The Bay’s subtitle should be When Good Directors Go Bad.  Barry Levinson’s name is well known to even the most casual moviegoers for a string of terrific films such as The Natural, Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man, Bugsy, Wag the Dog, and Bandits.  Not all of his films have been as strong as these as all directors – like writers and actors – are not able to produce quality work every time they step up to bat.  However, just two years after his critically acclaimed, award-winning HBO film You Don’t Know Jack about Jack Kevorkian, Levinson had what could only be called a WTF moment when he lent his considerable talents to an absurdly inane docu-style feature set in a small Chesapeake Bay town dealing with an ecological disaster involving mutated parasites and their rampage on the townsfolk and local fish population.

As you can tell from my rating, there is literally nothing here worth watching.  I have chosen to not even follow common reviewers’ practice of mentioning main characters and parenthetically recognizing the actors who portrayed them in what I consider a merciful maneuver to protect the names of the guilty.  The film is largely based on footage from various sources – surveillance cameras, traffic-light cams, cellphone cameras, multiple video camcorders, police-car dashcams, recorded Skype sessions, and more.  We see a local newswoman’s television reports, we see a couple’s home movies, we see the hospital’s emergency room doctor’s transmissions to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the CDC’s responses, and so on.  The film is occasionally “narrated” by the surviving newswoman.  But by and large, the film’s narrative is scattershot at best and unfathomable at worst.

In a couple of weeks leading up to the main event on July 4, 2009, two teenagers’ bodies are pulled from the Chesapeake Bay and are thought to have been killed by bull shark attacks.  Apparently around the same time, two oceanographers studying the ecological problems within the Bay videotape their inquiry into the Bay’s unsanitary conditions.  The biggest problem they find is that large poultry farms in Claridge, Maryland, are dumping chicken excrement into the Bay.  This excrement is filled with the by-products of steroid-laden chicken feed.  But ultimately, they find in fish a parasite that is not uncommon (at least not in Pacific waters; how it jumped the continental United States is apparently unimportant) – a form of isopod which I have seen in Discovery channel programs.  Cymothoa exigua actually eats away the host fish’s tongue and replaces the tongue with its own body; the fish is actually none the wiser nor harmed.  The researchers attempt to warn the town’s mayor of the parasites’ explosion, but he does not listen.  He is too involved in making sure July 4th festivities continue as planned (can anyone say Jaws?).

Now, imagine that this class of parasite has mutated due to the Bay’s toxicity.  What happens next?  Much of the townspeople become infested with multiple parasites that get through the filtration system as larvae, enter people’s bodies, grow exponentially both in size and number, and then begin eating their hosts from the inside out.  Ultimately, the parasites in Claridge Channel and the Bay are killed with massive amounts of chlorine, but not before nearly 1,000 people are dead in their homes, the street, the Bay, and the hospital.  The deaths are gruesome and shown in all their gory glory.  In the epilogue, we are given the standard line that “Big Brother” government stepped in, covered up the incident, claimed that the problem could not have been foreseen, could not have been controlled, and will not happen again.

Did Levinson and screenwriter Michael Wallach have a clue as to what kind of movie they wanted to make or were making?  It is part environmental disaster flick and part horror movie with an Animal Planet “Monsters Inside Me” motif.  I have seen SyFy original movies in these genres that actually more enjoyable than The Bay – and if you are familiar with the quality of those low-budget made-for-television movies, you know what an insult that is to this feature film.  Perhaps Levinson thought recent cinema’s found footage craze would provide a popular approach to his otherwise ridiculous subject matter; he was sadly mistaken.