I must admit, I caught on to the whole Paranormal Activity craze a bit late. Very late, actually. I watched the first Paranormal Activity movie this summer, then became hooked and proceeded to watch the second one, and the third one I ended up going to the movie theater to watch. Although I agree with others that the first movie was the best of all, I definitely did get the crap scared out of me during all of them.
So when I found out that director/producer of the Paranormal Activity series, Oren Peli, had teamed up with Michael Perry from Heroes to create a horror-themed television show directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) called The River, I was definitely intrigued. I settled in with my husband to watch the 2-hour season premiere with high hopes and expectations.
The premise of this show starts with Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who stars alongside his wife Tess (Leslie Hope) and his son Lincoln (Joe Anderson), in his own TV show “Undiscovered Country”, where he explores nature. His catchphrase on the show is “there’s magic out there” which kind of ties in with what happens later on. Twenty-two years later, Dr. Cole disappears unexpectedly and eventually, he’s declared legally dead and a memorial service is held for him.
After the service, Dr. Cole’s wife Tess approaches her son, Lincoln, with Dr. Cole’s old camera crew in tow to convince him that his father is still alive and they should venture out and find him. It is apparent at this point that Lincoln and his father did not have a good relationship; he even goes as far as saying he hates him. But after his mother informs him that if he doesn’t go, then the TV show will not pay for the expedition costs, he agrees to accompany her. They are joined by the production crew, head of security Captain Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann), and Lena Landry (Eloise Mumford), daughter of Dr. Cole’s exploring partner. They are also joined by the daughter of one of the production crew’s mechanics, Jahel.
What I liked about The River, is that you get to know the characters fairly quickly and are easily able to determine where they stand in the scheme of things. The sexual tension between Lincoln and Lena is very apparent early on, if they haven’t gotten it on in the past, they will be in the future, Captain Kurt Brynildson seems shady from the beginning and it’s just confirmed later on, and Tess and the show’s producer, Clark Quietly (Paul Blackthorne) have some weird chemistry going on, as if they’re hiding something. Jahel seems to be the bearer of bad news and the only one, aside from her dad, with advanced knowledge of what it is that’s hunting them. The girl rarely smiles; it seems she’s just waiting for something bad to happen. She is played by Paulina Gaitan, who is a great actress and manages to get you to warm up to her character, despite Jahel’s constant pessimism.
While watching The River, you definitely get a Paranormal Activity vibe. My husband also mentioned that it reminded him a bit of the TV show Lost. I can’t speak for that, since I never watched Lost, but I did notice similarities between The River and PA. The River has the same found footage/mockumentary setting, with the shaky camera shots (not motion sickness inducing), as well as the different camera angles assisted by security cameras that are located in different parts of the ship. There is also a scene where time is fast forwarded and stopped just in time to see Lincoln getting dragged out of his tent by an invisible being. Like in Paranormal Activity, the enemy for the search crew seems to be “dry souls”, or “cuerpo seco”, as they’re referred to. These are souls that wander the Earth, looking for blood to make them whole.
After watching both episodes of The River’s season premiere ("Magus" and "Marbeley"), I’m left a little torn. I wanted to like this show, and actually, I did enjoy most of it to the point where the two hours just flew by. My main issue with the show stems from the platform in which it’s presented. It is my understanding that the concept for this show was originally pitched as a movie, and then it became an 8-episode television series.
The problem is those damn commercials. I don’t know if the creators thought those random interruptions would build more suspense, a la Ryan Seacrest, but that was not the case for me. I felt like The River should’ve been a movie, and those breaks throughout the show kind of took some momentum away from the story. Someone would get attacked, and then all of a sudden I’m hearing some random jingle about cell phones. It just kind of threw me off. But like I said, the show itself is not bad. That may be why the commercial breaks bothered me, I was drawn into the story and during the last few commercial breaks of the show, it irked me to be cut off.
The visual effects of The River make it worth checking out. Like I said, I was scared a few times; well my version of scared consists of making this long drawn out gasping sound, so I definitely did that, which I enjoyed. I’m a sucker for punishment. The setting is dark and dreary, and you could almost picture yourself there, in the dark and scary jungle. Like I mentioned earlier, the camera work was good, the shaky effect that’s present in other found footage/mockumentary style movies was not a problem, and though you can tell the difference in quality when a shot is taken through a production camera or a security camera, it doesn’t take away from the story at all.
The River has its moments. The parts that had me gasping were really good, especially during a scene consisting of a creepy tree filled with dolls. I do feel the setting and plot of The River is better suited for a movie rather than a TV show. The whole formula for a good horror movie is the pace in which it is presented, and a TV show has to be slow paced, as it’s a weekly show and you don’t want to give away all the good stuff right away. The good news is that the first season consists of only 8 episodes, which is not too bad, and the producers have stated that a lot of questions will be answered in the first season; with some continuation points for what they hope is Season 2.
Will I continue to watch? Probably, I’m very curious about what has happened to Dr. Cole, whether he’s alive or not, and if he is, why he never returned to his family. I would say that The River did a good job of getting me hooked, answering enough questions for me in the first two episodes so that I stay wanting more. If you can get past the fact that your show will be interrupted with commercials every so often, then I recommend you watch. If you will be tuning in next week though, I suggest that you try and catch the first two episodes online, because they went through a lot of story so far (someone is possessed and someone else won’t make it to episode 3) and since the show is so fast-paced, you don’t want to miss a thing. Check it out Tuesdays 9/8c on ABC.
Isabel R. Aguilar