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Uneven spooky ride: Fairly fun with an open mind
on March 30, 2012
The River, the latest in the cinema verite craze. It is violent, unsettling, jittery, and at times actually frightening. Often, however, the excursion to locate Emmett Cole runs aground, relying on typical boo-scares and tepid characterization to propel its quivering plot threads. The characters are drab and stereotypical, including a devoted wife, her MD son with daddy issues, a rough mysterious security official, et al. Which leaves most of the show's excitement to come from the scary components. Well...There are two questions you will continually ask yourself should you chose to ride this river. And they are pivotal, sometimes plot-breaking questions: 1) Who is filming/who edited this footage together? 2) Why isn't the crew so overwhelmingly terrified by the various beasties and dark forces they come across that they at least reference these events in later episodes, if not try to run away/psychologically collapse? Both of these errors contribute to the immense, immense amount of verisimilitude required to enjoy The River. Take, for example, a sequence late in the season where footage is found by the principle characters from an earlier expedition. The footage shows two people conversing on the forest floor, yet the camera switches to different angles, most of them in the trees. Presumably, someone hid cameras in the trees, but this is never mentioned and only one tape is recovered. Which means someone had to gather the footage and cut it together. Impossible given the removal of these particular characters from anything resembling society, let alone an editing room. Sounds like nit-picking? Well, it is. And yet when you make a decision to force every element of your particular show through a certain lens (in this case, the found-footage angle), you had better make sure it makes sense, otherwise your audience will abandon you.
Still, if you ignore the flaws in the central conceit, there is much spooky fun to be had on this show. As other reviewers have pointed out, there are hardly any decent horror shows available, so I suppose, we oughta take what we can get. And what The River provides is certainly ample in terms of fulfilling genre fan expectations. Zombies, demons, ships of the damned, and spooky dolls are only some of the terrors to be had in "The Boiuna"--the mythical Amazonian realm in which the action takes place. As the season nears its gory, devilish finale, the terror factor is ratcheted up and someone does actually reference the fact that these unlucky travelers have been forced into many, many bizarre situations. At the end of the line, The River is like a dangerous roller coaster. You are often very afraid that the track dragging you forward is a bit too convoluted for its own good, trying to pack in one too many twists and turns, liable to topple back on itself if prodded in the right fashion. If you buckle down and try not to think too much, you'll be rewarded at ride's end, if only by another enigma, another sickening scare.