Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Joe Anderson, Leslie Hope, Eloise Mumford, Paul Blackthorne, Thomas Kretschmann, Daniel Zacapa, Shaun Parkes, Paulina Gaitan, Jeff Galfer
Michael Green and Michael R. Perry, series created by Michael R. Perry & Oren Peli
Jaume Collet-Serra
ABC, Tuesdays @ 9 PM
Original Broadcast:
February 7, 2012

At this point, “found footage” horror is a genre unto itself, but Oren Peli, who made the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY film and has produced the franchise since then, knows how to make it work long-term.

THE RIVER, which Peli created with Michael R. Perry, is proof of this. It sets up its premise economically, delivers what would be the climax of most feature films within the first 40 minutes or so and shows every sign of being able to sustain itself on all fronts: growing internal mythology, character development, faux-documentary style and abrupt full-blown scares.

In THE RIVER’s opening episode “Magus,” we are introduced to nature documentary filmmaker Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who is beloved worldwide for his weekly adventure show and his catchphrase, “There’s magic out there!” Yes, there is, but not necessarily the heartwarming kind. Emmet disappears on a voyage down the Amazon. After six months, he’s declared dead. His grown son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) is ready to move on with his life, but Tess Cole (Leslie Hope), Emmet’s wife and Lincoln’s mother, refuses to believe Emmet is gone.

When a rescue beacon from his ship is detected, Tess badgers Lincoln into accompanying her on a new expedition to find Emmet, with a documentary crew headed up by Emmet’s frenemy/competitor Clark Quietly (Paul Blackthorne). The outbound group also includes Lena (Eloise Mumford), who is the daughter of one of Emmet’s likewise vanished crew members, ship’s captain Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann), who it turns out knows more than he lets on, two camera operators (Shaun Parkes, Jeff Galfer), the ship’s mechanic Emilio Valenzuela (Daniel Zacapa), who used to work with Emmet, and Emilio’s psychically- attuned daughter Jahel (Paulina Gaitan). They track down the beacon, which leads them to Emmet’s ship the Magus. Emmet isn’t there, but something else is.

THE RIVER thankfully skips the part in most horror movies and even more horror series where various people need to be convinced that something beyond mortal ken is going on. There are a few minutes between Jahel’s warnings (in subtitles for non-Spanish speakers) and the release of an extremely angry and destructive spirit, to say nothing of the discovery of a bloody mess and some very surprising footage left behind by Emmet. The show gives us a you-are-there atmosphere of frightening chaos, but we also understand why Lincoln is fascinated with what may be out there and why filmmaker Clark thinks they’re onto a gold mine. Tess is still convinced that Emmet is out there waiting to be found, so there are plenty of good motivations for these folks to proceed, even though not only horror movie logic but what we see in this episode alone provides plenty of incentive for them to turn tail.

In character terms, Greenwood makes the elusive Emmet perhaps the most likable figure at the outset – this guy seems so genuinely excited about what he finds (his attitude is borne out by the testimony of family and friends) that we can easily understand how he became an international sensation. Zacapa as the can-do mechanic and Gaitan as the sensibly worried Jahel are sympathetic.Anderson is good as Lincoln, who is about equal parts sullen and charming in the opener. Hope is good as a woman whose determination is fueled by loneliness, grief and guilt and Blackthorne puts the right amount of ambition mixed with fear into his showman.

THE RIVER also gets kudos for being pragmatic about sound issues – we get subtitles not only when a language other than English is being spoken, but also when any sound element that might obscure dialogue is in the scene. This feature, often found in documentary and reality programming, is a refreshing addition to a drama (albeit a drama done in documentary style). With multiple camera operators and lots of already-existing footage of Emmet’s earlier expedition, there are no logic glitches about how it is that someone is filming what we see.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra achieves a fine balance between naturalism and mounting tension and episode writers Perry and Michael Green keep momentum speeding along while making sure the characters sound lifelike within the story’s context.

Altogether, THE RIVER is off to a great, spooky start.


Related LInk: TV Review – THE RIVER – Season 1 – “Los Ciegos”

Related Link: TV Review – THE RIVER – Season 1 – “Marbeley”

Related Link: Exclusive Interview with THE RIVER star Paul Blackthorne

Related Link: ABC says THE RIVER can exist beyond Season 1

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Article: TV Review – THE RIVER – Season 1 – “Magus” – Series Premiere



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