The last few seasons have seen a huge influx of genre TV shows, the likes of which the small screen hasn't seen since The X-Files hit it big in the early 1990s. Of course, The X-Files brought with it a slew of sci-fi, thrillers, and "geek" shows of questionable quality. This new crop of genre shows as brought us a selection of truly fantastic shows, including The Walking Dead, True Blood, Dexter, Being Human, The Vampire Diaries, and Fringe - just to name a few. Well, add The River to the list.
By now, I am sure that you are familiar with the plot. A renown naturalist and TV host, Emmet Cole, spent over 20 years traveling the world with his wife and son. He went on his last expedition without his family or his producer - and never returned. After missing in the Amazon for six months, Cole is declared dead. Weeks later, his emergency beacon suddenly goes off, and his wife Tess is convinced Emmet is still alive. Emmet's network and long-time producer offer to pay for Tess's entire search expedition - assuming they can record every minute of it, and Cole's estranged son joins in the search.
This setup offers the perfect conceit for executive producer Oren Peli's signature found-footage style. Using a mixture of hand-held Stedi-Cam, locked-off interview shots, and surveillance cameras mounted to the boat, you get that documentary-style with a minimum of shaky footage. Don't get me wrong; you still get handheld scenes while running through the jungle or getting "attacked" by something. But these vomit-inducing scenes are few and far between.
The show wastes no time getting to the good stuff. The first "scare" comes twenty minutes into the first episode. Most horror shows on TV right now accentuate a variety of aspects of horror, without actually scaring. Dexter focuses on the ordinariness of evil. True Blood goes with the gore. American Horror Story is pure shock value. Supernatural is a blend of action and humor. But The River is actually going for scares - and it succeeds. Episode two is where the creepiness really sets in, giving even me, the hardened horror addict, a slight chill. This episode uses conventionally scary imagery backed up with anthropological accuracy. The idea is that Cole was looking for "real" magic, so it is likely that more of these real-and-scary tribal customs will be woven throughout.
The cast is genuine, obviously cast for their talent and their chemistry over name recognition. Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Super 8), Joe Anderson (The Crazies, The Grey), Leslie Hope (24), Eloise Mumford (Lone Star), and Paul Blackthorne (The Gates, Special) may not ring any bells, but you have surely seen their faces. They handle their Amazonian setting (actually Puerto Rico for the pilot episode and Hawaii for the remainder) like champs. The cinematographers handle this scenery just as well, making the jungle scenery both lush and foreboding.
Verdict? This is a must-watch series, and is one of my favorites of the 2011-2012 season.