Horror on TV: The River

The renaissance of horror television continues with ABC’s new show, The River, which debuted a few weeks ago. Emmett Cole, who has hosted a nature show for 20 years, has gone missing, and his family gets a crew together to go on a rescue mission down the Amazon, filming all the while so they can make a TV show out of it. Along the way, they encounter all sorts of magical nasties from Amazonian folklore. It’s shot documentary-style, presented as “found footage.” Kind of a show-within-a-show.

Think of it as a strange mash-up of LOST, Supernatural, and Paranormal Activity.

Does it measure up to its predecessors? It’s only been on for three weeks, but in my opinion, the answer is no. It straddles that line where it’s got so much potential to be awesome, and it has those cool moments of creepiness that made the first season of Supernatural so entertaining… but something about it just feels off.

Maybe it’s the characters. I really don’t care about any of them… maybe because they don’t seem to care much about each other, willing to sacrifice others for the sake of the mission. Also, they’re a bit one-dimensional: the disloyal wife, the disaffected son, the guy who just cares about making a TV show, the mysterious traitor with an agenda of his own, and, of course, the weird girl who speaks only Spanish and whose sole purpose is to warn the others about impending danger thanks to her bizarrely huge knowledge of, and belief in, local legend.

Also, a requisite dead body or two.

The one episode that really came together for me was the second part of the 2-hour premier, where they stumble onto a place similar to the Island of the Dolls in Mexico. It’s pretty hard to screw up a bunch of creepy-ass dolls hanging morbidly in various stages of decay around a remote section of jungle.

There are some great moments in this episode where the cameras are rolling while everyone sleeps, and subtle things happem: a doll’s head turns; someone is slid from his tent. Here the Paranormal Activity-esque camerawork is in their favor, as they speed up time in that creepy way where everything moves very quickly. This episode had a satisfying resolution as they solved the mystery of the haunting.

"Come play with us..."

Unfortunately, the rest of the episodes fail to live up to this one. At this point, the most interesting part of the show is the legends they encounter, so I feel they should really focus on those. They try, but a lot of it gets lost due to shoddy exposition that fails to fully explain what’s going on, leaving the viewer a little confused and wishing she knew more about all the weird shit that’s happening to them.

This leaves me torn on the show. It could be awesome, but it just fails to live up to that potential, so I keep watching to see if it will succeed again like the doll episode did. I don’t have a whole lot of hope for that, but my curiosity about what happened to Emmett and what bit of legend they’ll encounter next might just keep me watching as long as I’ve got free time on Tuesday nights.

But that’s just one person’s opinion. Has anyone else been watching this? What do you think so far?

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7 thoughts on “Horror on TV: The River

  1. The doll episode is exactly why I continue to watch. The River has potential, if they would stop trying to wrap each episode up into neat little explainable packages. I think the creep factor and paranormal elements would have more effect if there wasn’t a ready answer for everything. Up the mystery…(Hugs) Indigo

    • I completely agree! They try and wrap it up, and it ends up being hastily tied together at the end and unsatisfying. Maybe a little more ongoing mystery, aside from the simple fact of Emmett’s disappearance, would drive the plot forward a little more. Maybe we need more clues about the disappearance itself?

  2. I agree with all of this, especially about the borderline unlikable characters (which would also be fine with me if they intend to up the show’s mortality rate), but I also think they ruin the “found footage” element by having what feels like a dozen cameras trained on any given scene. Paranormal Activity succeeded with this format by using the limited perspective to create tension, whereas The River’s camerawork feels just as all-encompassing as a standard production. To me, the omnipresent cameras and one-dimensional characters make The River feel more like a reality show than the usual “documentary” feel of found footage narratives.

    And, to be clear, I hate reality shows.

  3. Pingback: Horror on TV: The River (Part 2) | Pandora's Pen

  4. Pingback: 2012: Horror Year in Review | Joanna Parypinski

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