'The River' review: An entertaining spook-fest
On the "River," Dr. Emmet Cole ( Bruce Greenwood) is a world-famous nature program host who has gone missing in the Amazonian jungle. His wife Tess ( Leslie Hope), son Lincoln ( Joe Anderson) and a ragtag band of crew members set off to find him. In the process, they find his abandoned boat, the Magus, and a host of creepy occurrences.
The show's creators are Oren Peli and Michael R. Perry and like their "Paranormal Activity" franchise, the show is done in a found-footage format. The Magus is outfitted with cameras covering every square inch of the boat, which means all the scary jungle phenomena and creatures are caught on film.
There's a reason the "Paranormal Activity" films, or "The Blair Witch Project," work so well as scary movies - the found-footage device is creepy. "The River" utilizes this to the hilt, creating an atmosphere and sustaining a sense of dread without actually showing you much of anything (which is oftentimes the scariest device, anyway).
However, what "The River" is lacking is the sense of gravitas the first season of "Lost" held. The plane-crash pilot of "Lost" may never again be lived up to, but once that adrenaline rush subsided, the show started interweaving edge-of-your-seat mythology with intense, poignant character studies.
"The River" does not have that. The "mythology" seems to be more along the lines of "jungle magic" from the natives and/or gods. And the characters are highly underdeveloped, with some even coming across as painfully two-dimensional (we're looking at you, mechanic's daughter Jahel).
In the case of son Lincoln, he's a petulant, annoying young man traipsing around the jungle with major daddy issues. But he's no Jack. Or Sawyer. Or whoever else - did they all have daddy issues?
And Emmet Cole, the man they are all searching for, well ... it's hard to figure out why they want to find him, frankly. He seems like a jerk who abandoned his family to go have adventures and be famous. So while we will definitely watch the explorers sail through the perilous Amazon jungle for awhile, we kind of hope in the end, Cole gets eaten by a river monster.
On the flip side, though, Hope is wonderful as always (she was one of the best parts of Season 1 "24") and we also like Eloise Mumford of the critical darling "Lonestar" as the daughter of Emmet's missing cameraman. The show certainly has potential - one thing we really like about the shortened season is the tightness of the storytelling and that the Monster of the Week format manages to be interesting week in and week out.
We hope the show does well, because we'd like to see the creators and cast get more episodes with which to flex their creative muscles. But for now, we find it a solid, entertaining spook-fest.
"The River" has a two-hour premiere Tuesday night (Feb. 7) at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.