The River – Season One DVD
By its very nature the so-called ‘found footage’ sub-genre is a reasonably safe investment for a movie producer. The no-frills approach invites ultra-low production costs, which means that even if your end product does relatively mediocre business you’re still guaranteed a reasonable return on your money. Cheap to make and easy to do, it’s not difficult to see why they’re now a staple of the multiplex around the Halloween season. Television, though, is a different animal entirely.
What this particular format thrives upon – what it needs in order to make it work – is a captive audience. The few and fixed locations of the cameras and the slowburn, creeping, cumulative effect of a prolonged exposure in a dark confined space like a cinema, or even a living room, render the viewer helpless and beholden to the dread. As it turns out, there is no quicker way to neuter that effect and render it obsolete than to every seven minutes cut to a commercial for breakfast cereal and the like. This DVD release of all ten episodes should illuminate that nagging problem.
With The River, director Oren Pereli, the brains behind the original Paranormal Activity, takes a stab at adapting the found-footage idea to the longform, by way of marrying it to Indiana Jones and taking us on a spooky voyage into the unknown, snaking down the vast, isolated far reaches of the Amazon. This isn’t strictly ‘found footage’ as there is an actual camera crew along documenting the search, which is for Dr. Emmet Cole, a famed naturist and TV star in the Steve Irwin mold who disappeared some months previously, and whose determined wife and embittered son are now attempting to trace his whereabouts.
The somewhat loose interpretation of the established genre format is further reinforced by the fact that they’re not really playing by the rules, and even by the standards of a story hung on the supernatural, the suspension of disbelief The River requires of the viewer is staggering. First, there are cameras everywhere – literally dozens of them conveniently placed to cover every last nook and cranny – except in the one spot that might indicate whether or not there is a saboteur amongst the group. Second, we’re expected to buy that not only does Cole’s deserted boat, soon discovered, contain its own editing suite, but that it functions perfectly while the rest of the boat is a disaster, comprising a leaky hull, a busted engine, and at least one malevolent spirit thirsty for blood.
It’s not entirely unsuccessful in eliciting a few chills, especially as the second half of the season kicks in and we more and more frequently abandon the boat for the jungle. But legends of drowned children and possessed dolls are all stuff Japanese horror nicely catered for over a decade ago, thank you very much. While The River is a nice exercise in imagination-oriented storytelling, as opposed to the tedious spoon-feeding that so often characterizes primetime television these days, very little offered here can really count as anything new, and what is offered is hamstrung by the serialized nature of the thing putting a stop to any cumulative momentum that might otherwise be generated. Even imagination has its limits.
DVD Special Features:
Special features include audio commentary tracks on select episodes, and, as you might expect, a wealth of deleted scenes.