February 8th, 2012
09:45 AM ET
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).
About this blog
Our daily cheat-sheet for breaking celebrity news, Hollywood buzz and your pop-culture obsessions.