Thursday night at Alamo’s South Lamar location, ABC hosted a pre-screening of their upcoming found-footage horror series, The River, an experimental TV concept helmed by found-footage innovator Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity).
The eight episode series marks the "found-footage" format's jump into the TV spectrum. The series follows a documentary expedition set out to rescue TV personality Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), a fictionalized Steve Irwin, adventurer type after he has gone missing in the Amazon. The two-hour pilot, though enjoyable, raises some concerns as to whether or not this brand of horror can succeed in the drawn-out realm of Television. However, Peli and crew execute the transition well enough, hooking me for at least the next few episodes.
The pilot opens with footage from Emmet’s show within the show, a nature/travel/kids series that has been on a successful 22 year run. Through the footage we are introduced to younger versions of three central characters: Emmet the explorer; his neglected son Lincoln (Joe Anderson); and loving, fellow adventurer wife, Tess (Leslie Hope). The action quickly switches to a present day Lincoln eulogizing his famous father on national TV, after which he is surprised by his mother and live camera crew whilst drinking away his sorrows at the local bar.
His mother, who still believes Emmet is alive in the Amazon, has gathered funding from a big name TV network in order to search for the lost explorer, under one condition: both she and Lincoln must participate in the search and rescue. Now, that’s some good reality TV.
I must concede, the documentary search and rescue is a clever plot device that allows the characters to be accompanied by professional cameraman — a novel way of avoiding the dreaded shaky-cam that pollutes so much of found-footage horror. Luckily, the series is lead by Oren Peli, the director who breathed new life into the genre with 2007 hit, Paranormal Activity. Hopefully, with him in — not to mention Spielberg as producer — the series will avoid getting hung up on too many found-footage cliches.Still, the mid-season pick-up utilizes all of the familiar found-footage tricks: security cameras set up to capture what the camera crew can’t; spooky creaks off frame; and of course, too-fast-to-track shots of the monster, whatever it may be. And though none of that was tiring in the pilot, stretching out what many see as gimmicky for multiple seasons might prove more difficult.
After the show the audience was treated to a Q&A with show creator Oren Peli. The Israeli filmmaker gave insight into where the film was shot (surprisingly, not on a river), a future road map of the show and that the show will employ a kind of “monster of the week” format, wherein the crew will face a different kind of scare each episode. All in all, he seemed confident that he and his team had crafted a new and exciting interpretation of the found-footage sub-genre, a daring jump into the unforgiving world of television.
The pilot certainly succeeded as an introduction to what can be expected from the rest of the season and did well to set up each character and their role in the plot, all while using found-footage conventions to great effect. So, whether or not the show can remain fresh after a half season is still up in the air. I call the pilot a success and encourage both fans of horror and good TV to tune in to ABC Feb. 7 to at least give the show a shot.
The River premieres on ABC Feb. 7, at 8:00 CST and more info can be read here.