Tuesday, February 07, 2012

REVIEW: First two episodes of ABC's The River

There are spoilers here but I will try to not reveal everything.

I will say that my primary reason for watching The River is to see Thomas Kretschmann be a mean bastard. He is kinda mean. Doesn't like to do much without a gun in his hands. He has a bit of character development going on that leads us to believe he knows a lot more about what Emmett Cole was searching for and it is not magic. But don't let son Lincoln Cole know that yet... he's got magic on his mind and mentions it several times. This show is perfect for creating a drinking game. Every time you hear "magic", take a drink. Everytime the shot is messed up by fast camera moves when there is nothing to see, take a drink. It's the only way to get through the dizzying, actionless first 45 minutes.

I didn't get giddy drunk, but more of an upset stomach while watching the debut of The River on ABC, created by Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli. Two hours of shaky action sequences with very brief moments of stillness in stationary camerawork. It was as if I drank an Ayahuasca smoothie when the crew, looking for missing naturalist Emmett Cole, arrived at his abandoned boat on the Amazon River. There's no widening of a shot to capture the expression on faces. The jarring motions are so predictable that I usually felt like I could look away and not miss anything during large amounts of dialogue.

On that boat is a room welded closed; no pause given to waiting to figure out if it would be safe to enter. Upon entering the room, the crew discovers what looks like voodoo-like ritual tools and a vessel under a blanket that harkens to one of those empty pods from the 70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Immediately, whatever was in that thing, fled the room into the jungle. Seriously, you have cameras rolling and you're not rewinding and slowing down the footage to investigate it?

There's a lot of foreshadowing in the mechanic's story of his daughter's ghost friend he encountered when she was a child. It's a good story, listen to it. The camera is steady on the father so you can regain some balance until the vertigo-inducing shaky cam returns. Soon his daughter becomes possessed. Oh, well, we figured with all her "spirit" intuitiveness that this was bound to happen. Papa Cole's disappearance is connected to the "magic" he was seeking. We get it. We had to wait 45 minutes for a clever use of the photography. In hindsight, it seems quite ironic that this entity from the spirit world is really into this shaky style and, while the camera is still in the hands of the man, whom the entity just took out, it gets the man off the ground, spins him before the show cuts to commercial. It was pretty funny to watch.

Second episode then airs and there's some interesting moments when the Billy Zane-ish a la Dead Calm producer starts to make me wish Papa Cole's wife, Tess, will sooner than later bash his head in; give it time, I tell myself. He likes to capture moments for his documentary like the forest of hanging dolls in the graveyard. Okay, clever work in having a monkey wearing a doll face. It was creepy, Japanese-style horror in a twisted, funny way. Tess calls, "Little girl," to set up the viewer into thinking that there's a child in the jungle, yet here we are again mystified that the cameraman isn't showing what she's seeing yet. Why is the cameraman in the back of the group all the time?! So friggin' lame. I also wondered: where are the battery chargers for the cameras? They're in the jungle all day and half the night and they are not changing the batteries. It is so unrealistic.

Just when you think you'll not hang in for a 3rd episode next week, in the last 30 seconds they reintroduce a plot device involving a necklace given to the son by the father. That same symbol appears on the neck of a character and it hooks the viewer in... though it will not answer any questions if they reveal next week that this character got drunk with Papa Emmett one night and thought it would be a good tattoo to get as a rite of passage.

I give the first two hours 3 out of 5 beheaded dolls. It means, watch it but don't worry about rewinding sequences where you think something went too fast by the camera. You won't see anything. It's just a bunch of prop people throwing things across the frame to jar you awake.

NOTE: I just added the link above to the monkey doll face animated gif courtesy of Dan Hopper of Best Week Ever

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