Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
From the mastermind behind juggernaut franchise Paranormal Activity and one of Hollywood’s legendary filmmakers of all time comes ABC’s latest foray into genre television – “The River” – which was created by Oren Peli and Michael R. Perry, who may be best known as the writer for Paranormal Activity 2 as well as a gaggle of genre shows including “Stephen King’s Dead Zone,” “Millennium” and “American Gothic.”
“The River” is being executive produced by Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks Television and there’s no doubt that ABC is looking to fill their “Lost” void with the found footage series which begins on February 7th. Thankfully, they’ve got a great team at the helm with some stellar material to draw from so fans should be definitely pleased with “The River” once they get the opportunity to check out the series for themselves.
In the ABC drama, we meet animal activist and wildlife adventurer Dr. Emmet Cole (Greenwood) through a series of flashbacks, who became a beloved pop icon through his exploits on his television series that followed him and his family on his many adventures to exotic locations all over the globe. But something goes horribly wrong for Dr. Cole and his crew as one mysterious day they just seem to vanish into thin air.
Six months pass and with all hope of finding Dr. Cole now faded away, the television host’s strong-willed wife Tess (Hope) uncovers a sign that could potentially lead her to her missing husband. Tess, desperate to find Emmet, reaches out to their son Lincoln (Anderson) for help; she wants him to come with her to the Amazon for a rescue expedition but there’s one catch- it’s being filmed for a brand new series which is the brainchild of sleazeball producer Clark (Blackthorne) and if he doesn’t come and agree to be on camera, then there’s no funding for the expedition and no chance of Tess ever finding her husband again.
Reluctantly, Lincoln agrees to go along and soon the entire hodge-podge group of travelers assemble, including Captain Kurt (Kretschmann) who’s in charge of security, Lena (Mumford) who is also in search of her own missing father as well as boat captain and faithful employee to Dr. Cole, Emilio (Zacapa) and his teenage daughter Jahel (Gaitan) who happens to know a thing or two about boat engines and the supernatural forces lurking around them in the Amazon. The group takes off to locate Dr. Cole but what they encounter is something far more mysterious than they could have ever imagined; soon, they’re all put to the test to try and survive the evil supernatural forces at hand while trying to uncover the whereabouts of Dr. Cole.
With found footage being all the rage these days and what seems like a very straightforward plot, on paper “The River” might seem like a one-trick pony kind of television series but thankfully, creators Peli and Perry cleverly avoid the major pratfalls of both the found footage subgenre of horror as well as the high-concept, ‘other worldly’-type television drama and deliver a fantastic new show to the airwaves. With Jaume Collet-Serra at the directing helm, what you get from the first two episodes of “The River” is a pretty fantastic mini-horror movie that goes to some surprisingly dark places for network television and manages to deliver quite a few surprises along the way as well.
The cast of “The River” won me over by episode two; everyone seemed a bit shaky in the pilot episode but by the second round, the cast all settled into their respective roles rather nicely. At the forefront of the drama are Hope and Anderson who have great chemistry together as a mother struggling to reconcile with her reluctant son. Blackthorne is perfectly cast as the underhanded producer Clark, reminiscent of a young Billy Zane, and Mumford’s Lena is a great strong female counterpart to the wounded ego of Anderson’s conflicted character, too.
At first, the idea of a found footage dramatic series might seem like it shouldn’t work when you take into consideration the limitation of footage that can be reasonably ‘found’ week in and week out without testing the patience of the viewer; however, “The River” smartly incorporates a multitude of material to explore through the cameras used on Dr. Cole’s recovered boat, the handheld cameras of Clark’s shooting crew as well as footage from Dr. Cole’s longtime running television series and the tapes the missing adventurer left behind.
Each medium gives viewers little tidbits revealing more and more about these characters while also skillfully building the mystery surrounding Dr. Cole’s disappearance, with some of the best moments being the private tapes of the Cole Family twenty years prior that show a lot of tender moments among Emmet, Tess and a young Lincoln.
If I have anything negative to say about the series, it is that the pilot episode of “The River” was a bit hokey at times (the use of “there is magic out there” as a repeated theme got to be a little too cutesy for my tastes) and most of the cast didn’t quite gel into their respective roles, but that’s usually par for the course when it comes to inaugural television shows – generally, it takes an episode or two before everything feels ‘settled’ and thankfully, “The River” settles in rather quickly at the start of episode two and everything about it feels a little more confident than its predecessor.
While there are many who are already comparing “The River” to a certain other ABC show that happened to take place in the middle of a jungle, this latest series really has nothing about it that feel like “Lost” at all- the story feels fresh, the found footage approach works great and “The River” successfully throws in some great moments of tension and creepiness that will definitely crawl under your skin.
Horror fans will definitely want to take a ride on “The River” once it debuts on February 7th.
4 out of 5