Friday, February 17, 2012

Sketched TV: The River

Get out your swamp monsters and expendable cameramen, we're reviewing The River!
You'd think after being in The Ruins and The Crazies Joe Anderson would have learned something about horror movies.
I watched the 2 hour premiere(which again was just 2 hour long episodes back to back) and I had relatively high hopes.  With the success of American Horror Story and taking techniques from horror movies like Paranormal Activity, I thought this would be at least a little entertaining.  I was surprised at the outcome.

Dr. Emmet Cole(Bruce Greenwood) had a popular exploration TV show in the vein of Steve Erwin that he produced with his wife Tess(Leslie Hope) and his little son Lincoln. Now that Lincoln is grown up(now played by Joe Anderson), he wants nothing to do with his father, who cared more about the show than his family.  But then his father disappears somewhere in the Amazon, and it's up to his mother, son, his producer and their crew to go out and find him, filming everything to make a TV show.

They use the found-footage technique prevalent in movies like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, and Blair Witch Project. So if you can't find yourself sitting through 2 hours of this, you definitely won't be able to sit through a whole season of it.  I can stand it in small doses, if done right, but I don't think I'll be able to stand a whole season of it. Considering they're supposed to be using professional cameramen, you'd think they'd be able to get over the whole "Shaky as all hell" thing, but no.  What sucks most is I can't even like the cinematography like I do with American Horror Story.

You would think a show using the found footage schtick would be smart enough to have more organic dialogue, but everything feels just as staged and artificial as any regular drama. Characters will have long dramatic rants and wait for each other to finish their thoughts before reacting, and they'll tell the cameramen to get out of their faces and completely forget their still on camera.  Early on, Lincoln does this whole long rant about him and his father, then less than two minutes later when the camera man asks him to talk about his father, he goes, "Get outta my face! Thats personal!" as if he missed the part where he already did.

Another problem with emulating Paranormal Activity is that they have time to build up suspense. The whole point of a realistic camera set up is that it needs to look real, then things slowly get weirder, then all shit hits the fan. But here, they don't have time for that. What with all the setting up of this week's monster, having conversations to develop character, having flashbacks, and establishing where they are in the search, by the time they get done with all of that, they have no time for suspense.  Since the most important part to them is the big chase and monster sequence, they cut out the build up, and it makes for a less scarier experience.

I actually liked the first episode. And maybe if it was just one episode(maybe a longer one, like say 2 hours?) it would have worked better than a whole series. From the outset, Lincoln doesn't want to go looking for his father. His mother wants him to go and and she explains they won't pay for the show without him, which doesn't sound like that good of an excuse. Maybe if the produces were also paying for his college and threatened to cut off funding it would have been more believable. But what I like about Lincoln in this episode is that he's smart.  He doesn't want to go in, at the first sign of supernatural trouble he wants to get out, and when one of the crew members offers a supernatural explanation, Lincoln believes her instead of being cynical for thirty minutes. That's smart.

Things go bad, then things go really bad, then the supernatural shit hits the fan, and at the end of the episode they manage to kill it. Hey, that was a nice story arc right there. But then at the end of the episode, Lincoln goes, "Yeah! Let's go find my dad!" How does that make sense? You were proven right, all the crew knows it was supernatural, someone actually DIED from it, and you want to keep going? That doesn't make sense! And this is where the series loses me.

In the beginning of the second episode(remember, they KNOW FOR A FACT that there is some supernatural ghost monster demon shit in the jungle), they trudge through the jungle on a lead to find Emmet Cole, and they stop in the one spot that is filled with creepy dolls because of some old ghost story. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT.  IN ALL OF THE SPOTS IN THE BATDAMN JUNGLE, WHY WOULD YOU PICK THE CREEPY DOLL SANCTUARY? You saw the creepy monster thing in the last episode right? You can't walk two more miles away, just to be on the safe side?

Then Lincoln proceeds to mock the ghost legend and take one of the dolls. You were the one in the last episode who was first to believe in the bad juju! How can you not believe this?!  THEN in the middle of the night, MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT IN THE BATDAMN DOLL SANCTUARY, the cameraman gets up to get some footage of the dolls, and proceeds to poke and prod them to do something on camera.  YOU SAW YOUR FELLOW CAMERAMAN KILLED IN FRONT OF YOU BY A GHOST DEMON THING ARE YOU STUPID?!  What is their motivation here? Why have they suddenly completely forgot what transpired a day before, which would traumatize any normal person fro life? These are not smart people.

What I can gather from this is that they set up each episode to be it's own little complete horror story, possible a monster of the week deal, pulled loosely together with the premise of finding Emmit Cole.  This premise doesn't work, because in any horror movie, the characters at the end who have gone through all that drama, will not have the same goals as they did at the beginning of the movie. They change. Maybe their goals at the beginning were curiosity or finding money or getting laid, but as soon as they are confronted with a monster, people start dying, and they realize they are now in a life or death situation, their goals immediately change to that of simply survival.  They KNOW there is evil, they've seen it, and now they just want to get as far away from it as possible.  But here, they see that there's evil and then they completely forget about it the next episode. There's no change.

The only one who has any kind of realistic motivation is the producer, because for him, the more actual scary shit he sees the better his show will be and the better his ratings will be. But even him, after having his life in jeopardy, should be running out of the jungle like a track runner on fire. Also, I want their kill ratio to be higher, which is a problem since they need all the characters for their archetypal roles.

I want to like this, I feel like it has potential to have a good finale, but I can't see myself trudging through the jungle with a shaky cam for six more episodes to get there. It's supposed to feel organic with the found footage look, but it feels too scripted for that. The characters can be smart, but then they forget what they learned and keep going because the TV show needs them to. It's a jumbled shaky mess.

THE GOOD: First episode was fairly entertaining, Joe Anderson is enjoyable most of the time, fairly creepy style, interesting premise for a show.
THE BAD: Only if you REALLY like shaky cam, it feels too scripted when it should feel organic, doesn't really work in the show format, not really scary, characters come off as really dumb.
OVERALL: Meh. I don't know if I'd recommend it. Maybe it will get better, but you it's a poor substitute for American Horror Story.
SHOWS/MOVIES LIKE IT: Rec, Paranormal activity, Blare Witch Project, American Horror Story, Supernatural
ONE SCENE METAPHOR: Jahel, the daughter of the ship's mechanic, and the superstitious one who doesn't speak english, explains to Lincoln what she thinks the monster is, very dramatically. Usually they use subtitles, but for even MORE dramatic effect, instead they have her father explain to Lincoln what she's saying. Then the last sentence thing she says, which in any other movie would be the dramatic climax of the monologue, is put in subtitles as the father doesn't explain it. It would be dramatic, if it wasn't for the fact Lincoln just missed that last sentence, but doesn't ask what she said, but still somehow understood what she meant. what.

No comments:

Post a Comment