Freaky twists drive 'The River'
February 8th, 2012
09:45 AM ET

Freaky twists drive 'The River'

Tuesday night's two-hour series premiere of "The River" was a mixed bag.

The show combined elements of "Lost," the original "Alien" and "Paranormal Activity" (which was directed by one of "The River's" creators, Oren Peli) into a show that surely seemed like a risk-taking potential hit for ABC when they picked it up last year.

It started out promisingly enough, with footage from a "Crocodile Hunter"-esque show, hosted by Dr. Emmet Cole and his family. After 22 years of the heartwarming nature show, the doctor has gone missing and a documentary crew is following his wife Tessa on a quest to find out what happened to him.

The unsettling video that is discovered early on, showing Emmet's slow descent into madness, was intriguing. The doctor wasn't exactly the noble man of scientific exploration we saw on TV: when he said "there's magic out there," he literally believed it.

Meanwhile, it turned out that the group looking to rescue him (including Lena, the daughter of Emmet's cameraman) weren't alone when they entered his abandoned ship. Helpfully, a crew member's daughter, who just happens to be a medium, has tagged along.

Like many horror movies, however, "The River" falls into the trap of underdeveloped, uninteresting characters. A few of them, like Clark and Kurt, are virtually interchangeable, while Emmet's now-adult son, Lincoln, can be somewhat grating.

Even so, when it wants to scare you, it succeeds - more so than, say, "American Horror Story" did (and there are certainly more scares per episode than "The Walking Dead" so far this season).

What appeared to be one malevolent force the group would be facing through this eight-episode season was dispatched in the first hour (it would also appear to be the spirit of Lena's father). So instead, it looks like this show will have a ghost-of-the-week.

The second hour was an improvement on the first, at least on the level of pure creepiness. Jahel, the medium, seemed to channel the very-much-alive (we think) Emmet and spoke to Tessa (who, by the way, out of what must be desperation, bought into all of this ghost business without much hesitation).

Much of the search party ended up on a small island, and it's not long until they happen upon a small child. The closer they get to the child, they notice it has a disturbing doll face, which turns out to be a monkey wearing a doll head. It was at this point I practically jumped out of my seat.

If looking at dolls in the dark makes you uneasy, this is not the show for you. Much of the episode had close-ups of dolls hanging on trees (reminiscent of, but scarier than, the tree figures scene in "The Blair Witch Project").

I don't really suffer from pediophobia, but this nearly freaked me out. After a member of the film crew dares a doll's eyes to open (as one does in a horror scenario, as opposed to running far, far away), you saw one do just that behind him. Before long, he's gone. It becomes quickly apparent that holding a camera is the equivalent to wearing a red shirt on "Star Trek."

The spirit of a young girl inhabited this island and she ended up literally spiriting away Tessa. Once Lincoln figured out what the ghost wanted, Tessa crawled out of a hole in a graveyard, another disturbing moment.

So, finally these people had the sense to get out of there. We were left with some old video of Emmet with a young Lincoln and Lena. Emmet noticed some sort of strange tattoo on the back of her neck, which we are left to ponder (probably something to do with a necklace that Emmet gave Lincoln in a previous video).

So, since the season is so short, I think I will stick with it. Again, very few of the characters grabbed me, but it was genuinely scary television (and in a few scenes, gorier than I expected for ABC).

What did you think? Did the dolls creep you out too? Will you keep watching? Post your view on iReport (Kathi Cordsen, for example was unimpressed) or comment below.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Sokman

    I gave up on it at "from the co-creator of Lost". Like Alcatraz, it just seems like a thinly veiled ripoff of Lost, which went downhill rather quickly. If I wasn't impressed with the original, I doubt I'd like the imitation.

    February 9, 2012 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  2. Hector C.

    I was (and still am) hoping that this show can fill the void left when Lost went off the air. But after watching the series premiere, I'm not sure.

    What I really liked about Lost was the intrigue and the suspense build-up that occurred organically over time. With The River, there was too much too fast and it left me with a lot to process. If it continues at this pace, I think some are going to be turned off.

    Ultimately, the show did leave me curious for more, but not really satisfied I like I hoped it would.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Hooboy

    I found it nicely entertaining, but not really scary at all (too much hype ahead of time I suppose). The doll that turned its head was cool. Lost was so scary (remember the first time we heard the noise and the trees being stomped? It was truly terrifying. I'm glad there was a similiar monster, but at least this one had a face (tho one had to slowmo to see it). "Blackie" was so lame on Lost. (They never did say what noise it reminded whatsherface of in NYC.) Hope the story gets better.

    February 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. kat

    well...I thought it was totally American Horror story better. Didn't find anything scarey at waste of 2 hrs...will not be back for more

    February 8, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Steve

    My friends and I gathered at my house to watch the premeir and I must say it had me at the edge of my seat. I don't like things jumping out at me, so I was terryfied!!! I loved it!!!

    February 8, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Karen

    I thought it was a great show! Little slow at times but you have to set the story up, once that was done I thought it was very good. Definitely a "Lost" feel and for sure be watching it again!

    February 8, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. Celia

    Have to say I was quite interested when I saw the promos for this series so I watched it. Plus I'm a Paranormal Activity fan though I think this show did better in freaking me out than the movies do. I did feel it was kind of slow in some spots but I was definitely freaked out in others. Seeing there are only 6 more episodes, I will watch it cause I am kind of curious what happened to the father.

    February 8, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. Atawewe

    Reblogged this on the1tvjunkie.

    February 8, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  9. Ehh

    I was excited for this show to begin. I must say that aside from the creepy scary moments (especially the monkey with the mask) it was kind of slow and seemed to have a rather shallow plot it seems like they find these places to easily and it makes the show arpear unrealistic. Its okay but Im not going to be up set should I happen to miss an episode

    February 8, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. ninja kid

    GOSH – I was going to watch this show for sure, but forgot it was on. The previews looked really good. Plus what the writer posted above also make it sound pretty cool. Maybe they will re-air it hopefully. FISH STICKS AND TAAAATER TOTS ! YES !

    February 8, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |

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