The River (ABC) Recap & Review
Found footage seems to be all the rage these days. What was once used as a plot device for horror movies has expanded beyond its genre, like in the recently released movie Chronicle. After seeing it though, I did realize that the found footage formula, though applicable there, really works better with horror movies. Oren Peli, the director of the original Paranormal Activity, is the mind of the new ABC show, The River. The River uses the first-person/found footage formula as its basis, but puts it in a TV show format. The show premiered with two back to back episodes. The question is, does it work?
The River focuses on the story of the lost Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who was once the star of a show called The Undiscovered Country. His show, which ran for over 20 years, has gotten the attention of viewers everywhere around the world. His last expedition took him to the Amazon Rivers, where he was never heard from again. This sends the world into a state of shock as they mourn the loss of a TV idol.
However, not all hope is lost, and a beacon signals that he might still be alive. His wife, Tess Cole (Leslie Hope) puts a crew together of past Undiscovered Country crew made up of ex-producer Clark Quietly (Paul Blackthorne); a few cameramen; a mechanic Emilio (Daniel Zacapa) and his daughter Jahel (Paulina Gaitan); daughter of Emmet's cameraman, Lena (Eloise Mumford); and a bodyguard, Captain Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann), and his estranged son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson).
Clark agrees to go on this expedition under the pretense that it's shot as a documentary.
If you want to skip ahead and just read what I thought about the show, you can click HERE
Episode recap *Spoilers ahead*
The first episode focuses on pinpointing Emmet's signal from a beacon that was just recently turned on. While the beacon's location proved to be unsuccessful, the crew is later joined by Lena, who also feels that she should be a part of the expedition, as her father is one of the main cameramen for the show who also disappeared — as well as Emmet's close friend.
Lena is able to pinpoint the location of Emmet's boat, the Magus, in a location that the native mechanic and daughter aren't keen on visiting, called the Boiuna, which also isn't on any map (convenient). The team eventually does find the Magus, though it's completely deserted and wrecked. Strange noises start coming from the ship's panic room, which sends everyone into a panic at the possibility of Emmet and some crew still being alive. In the meantime, Clark sets up his monitoring station in the bridge of the boat and is able to monitor the various rooms of the Magus, keeping with the documentary style the show is filmed in.
With the panic room open, the team slowly descends into it, only to find an altar with pictures of Cam — another one of Emmet's crewmates — and a strange piece of either rock or bark that seems to be sealed. Eager, Lincoln goes to touch it, only to unleash a vengeful spirit that immediately flies out to cut Lena's leg in thirst for blood. The team recuperates after the initial shock and Lena goes into Emmet's personal quarters to find all of his hidden tapings that were never aired. Through those, the team sees that Emmet's tagline "There's magic out there" actually symbolized real magic, as the tapes reveal sessions with shamans and other extraordinary happenings.
The team decides to leave, except for Tess, who is determined her husband is still alive. However, the spirit quickly takes care of the rafts that the team used to get there, leaving them stuck aboard the Magus in the middle of the night. While watching Emmet's videos, they come across footage that shows what the spirit was sealed in and how it's used. The team deduces that the spirit must be Cam's, at which point the terrorizing continues. One of the cameramen gets killed by Cam and taken from the boat. Lincoln realizes he can use the same item which held the spirit to once again trap it. Tess also comes to the realization that if the spirit is indeed Cam's, then he must know if Emmet is still alive. She yells to give her a signal of one scream if he's dead, two if he's alive. Lincoln successfully goes for the capture as the ghost swipes at Tess' leg, leaving two marks, signaling that Emmet is alive. The first episode concludes with the expedition moving on to find more clues about his disappearance.
The second episode starts off with one of the blue dragonflies, native to the Amazon River, flying into Jahel's mouth while she's sleeping, instantly possessing her with Emmet's being. She gets up and walks over to Tess and, in Emmet's voice, tells her to turn back and not to find him — that “they” have him. Of course, Tess does the exact opposite and sets out to find him, based on the footage found by Lena in the previous episode.
The team makes their way through the jungle, eventually stumbling across a tree that's covered with old and decrepit dolls suspended from it, as well as a graveyard belonging to 19th century British explorers. This tree ties into the legend of a little girl that played with her doll by the river; she ended up losing it and going after it, eventually drowning. Of course, the most obvious thing at this point would be to set up camp underneath this terrifying tree, and set up cameras all around so we could see just what happens when everyone's asleep.
That night, Lincoln finds his Teddy Bear, Marbeley, who he threw into the Indian Ocean when he was a teenager, suspended to the doll tree. Lincoln gets nostalgic and cuts the bear down, but this apparently is a big no no, as it angers the spirit of the little girl. He gets dragged into the forest while everyone is asleep, and this spirals into the team trying to get away from the doll tree as fast as possible. However, their plan backfires, and they end up right where they started. Kurt notices that Lincoln is holding a bear that he got from the tree and immediately tells him to fasten it back to the tree. After a few unsuccessful tries, due to the tree cutting the bear down itself, it then starts dropping dolls everywhere around them, putting them into a state of panic and sends them running through the jungle.
After running for a bit, they notice Tess isn't behind them and find her being dragged into the river. Unable to save her, they keep hearing a little girl's voice asking for her mom, as well as Tess' voice, signaling that she's not dead. The team realizes that they must dig up the grave belonging to the girl's mother, and take her skeleton to the river where Tess was taken. The plan does eventually work and Tess emerges from the river.
After they make their way back to the Magus, Lincoln tries to talk to the possessed Jahel and see if he can talk to his father, but the blue dragonfly flies out of her mouth, reverting her back to normal again.
The two hour premiere worked much better than a single episode would, since it gave us a taste of how the format of the show would work. It seems like each week will present a new “monster” that the expedition will have to overcome.
I am a big fan of the flashbacks that show Emmet and his family during the taping of the Undiscovered Country. These present some much needed exposition to the cast, and lets us get an insight as to why Lincoln eventually grew apart from his father, or why Tess' reason for going on this hunt for her husband isn't out of love, but guilt. It's these types of flashbacks that really helped build the backstories of the people on Lost, and it gave each character an even deeper personality, one that would be hard to portray simply through the present day dialogue.
I am disappointed that the show so far is working off of the same Paranormal Activity style where we know monsters exist, yet they're never being revealed as to what they look like, trying to make the viewers use their imagination. This style worked in the Paranormal movies only because they had a longer time to build the fear up, and then unleash it in the end. The River only has an hour to present some exposition about what they're doing, present a monster of legend, and then have the remaining time to try to scare us.
With that said, there are genuinely creepy moments that had me jump once or twice, but if the show wants to keep going on, I don't think it can succeed on making us “imagine” what each monster looks like every episode.
I am genuinely excited to see how this series plays out week to week, and with only six episodes left in the first season, I'm hoping the show presents some huge cliffhangers to rope people in and keep them interested if this show wants to see a continuation.