Spring 2012 Review: The River

3 Feb

The River is brought to us by Oren Peli, best known to the world for Paranoraml Activity, a horror-type movie which was supposed to be a cut above the average film in the genre.  It’s a genre that’s never been my particular cup of tea, and I have yet to see the film, but from what I know, it’s notable for its distinctive “found footage” style, similar to the Blair Witch Project, with scenes viewed as it from cameras set up by the primary couple in the film, who are being haunted.

This gave me a couple of impressions going into The River and two primary concerns.  First, I understand the appeal of the “found footage” style but I worried that the hurky jerky camera work could prove too gimmicky if overused during the course of a series.  Second, and this is a more personal bias, I wondered if this would venture too far into the Paranormal Activity-type genre for my liking.  However, I found the premise interesting, and I was willing to trust the general consensus that this Peli guy had some idea of what he was doing and wasn’t just a horror movie hack.

The River is about a nature explorer, Emmett Cole, a lot like say a Steve Irwin, who travels throughout the world, showing off nature with , occasionally with his family, on a nationally televised TV show.  He’s done this for over twenty years until he gets lost on an expedition into the amazon.  After rescue teams try to find him for six months and fail, he’s declared dead, and his family mourns his loss, but when his rescue beacon goes off, his wife, Tess, tries persuade his son, Lincoln, to go down and attempt to find him. Lincoln only agrees when he learns that the television network will only pay for the expedition if both he and his mother are on board.

The team, including some cameramen, a security person, Cole’s wife and son, an engineer who worked with Cole, and his daughter, starts down the river, where they run into their last member, Lena Landry, the daughter of another man who worked with Cole and was on the missing expedition.  They find the beacon quickly, and are about to turn around, when Landry tells them she’s been able to figure out where to go next, and they follow her instructions and find the ship.

This is where it starts getting all Paranormal Activity.  Apparently the panic room is welded shut, and inside is a shell which it turns out contains some sort of evil spirt which had been trapped, but is now out and wants blood.  There’s a bunch of crazy camera angles as we look from the crew’s camera perspective, and we switch back and forth in vantage points quickly, wondering where the evil spirt’s at.  Eventually, one guy gets killed, the spirit gets trapped again, and the wife leaves more certain than ever that her husband’s still alive.  Many of the crew are pretty quick to accept the supernatural, and the show does not spend almost any time on any serious disbelief of the idea of spirits.

I thought for a minute that the show might not actually be about the supernatural, and might just involve animals, and wild tribes, and drug runners, and what not, but that was obviously misguided.  There’s going to be tons of supernatural, and I can live with that in and of itself, but it’s always a tricky direction to go in because you need rules.  The camera work was a little much for me, but not so much that I wasn’t intrigued.  I have major doubts about the sustainability of a show like this, and since the crew number is probably more or less set, it limits the ability to keep killing them off.   It’s interesting; I’ll give it that, and that’s worth a lot with a pilot, but I have serious doubts about its lasting power.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, I will. Alcatraz seems a safer bet, but The River seems to have more potential. Alcatraz is the college draft pick pitcher who likely has a ceiling as a #3 starter but is likely to reach it, while The River is a high school lefty who can’t help but intrigue you even if you wonder if his unusual motion will lead to an inevitable injury.  Okay, long analogy over.  I’m going to go watch it again, for at least a couple of episodes.

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