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December 21, 2014

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TV: ‘The River’ navigates choppy waters

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A mysterious creature wreaks havoc in The River.

The Details

The River
Three stars
Tuesdays, 9 p.m., ABC.

The found-footage trend that’s given us hit movies like Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield (along with throwaway crap like The Devil Inside and Apollo 18) finally comes to TV with The River, created by Paranormal Activity writer/director/producer Oren Peli and Paranormal Activity 2 co-writer Michael R. Perry. It’s a difficult style to maintain over a long-term episodic narrative, but the first two episodes of The River do a decent job of making the case for the format, embracing the straight-up horror that is common to found-footage movies but much rarer on TV.

There’s a lot of creepy stuff in those first two episodes, which follow a documentary expedition down the Amazon in search of missing nature-show host Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood). Cole’s wife Tess (Leslie Hope) and grown son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) are determined to find him, and in the process they discover a whole world of mysterious phenomena that Cole was chasing along with exotic wildlife. There’s a lot of silly stuff in these episodes, too, and like other recent serialized shows, The River hints at plenty of mysteries that may completely fall apart by the end of the season.

The limitations of the found-footage format sometimes force contrivances and inconsistencies that wouldn’t exist otherwise, but they also allow for an immediacy that adds to the creepiness. Even as the second episode directly rips off a device from Paranormal Activity, The River seems on its way to finding its own unique approach to found-footage storytelling.

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