Critics say the found-footage TV series, while scary, suffers from poor writing and one really annoying character.
By Eric Ditzian

Eloise Mumford and Joe Anderson in “The River”
Photo: American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

“The River” carries a sense of pop culture inevitably in its shaky, grainy found-footage escapades. After “Paranormal Activity” resuscitated the horror subgenre with its wide release in 2009 — grossing $193 million worldwide and spawning two sequels and a slew of variously successful imitators — it was only a matter of time until found-footage scares arrived on network TV.

Thankfully, that arrival comes courtesy of “Paranormal” mastermind Oren Peli. “The River,” premiering on ABC on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, borrows liberally from Peli’s hit film franchise (as well as from past network hits like “Lost”) in a midseason replacement that sees a crew venture into the Amazon to locate a missing explorer named Emmet Cole. The question, of course, is whether “The River” can replicate the successes of its wildly popular forbearers (or, perhaps, the been-there-found-that disappointments of other genre copycats).

Critics, at this point, are split. Some have found the series satisfyingly scary. Others have faulted the show’s weak character development. For those critiques and more, read on for a deep dive into reviews of “The River.”

The Storyline
“[‘The River’] is a nifty supernatural adventure tale set in mysterious river-riven regions of the uncharted Amazon. Topographically speaking, it is ‘Lost’ inside-out. The story is this: Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), a world-beloved, globe-trotting ‘Crocodile Hunter’ sort, has gone missing. Six months after his disappearance, an emergency beacon begins suddenly transmitting and his former crew and co-stars, including his wife and son and the daughter of his also-missing cameraman, head into the jungle to find him, with TV cameras rolling. Emmet’s television catch phrase, ‘There’s magic out there,’ will prove to be presciently literal.” — Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

The Comparisons
“There are so many moments in ABC’s ‘The River’ when you want to congratulate its creators for trying a little more blatantly to be ‘Lost’ than others will admit, and there are other times when you think, ‘Wow, ‘Paranormal Activity’ on a weekly basis, with a touch of ‘Heart of Darkness,’ might be interesting, too.’ Quick camera cuts, people in peril, freaky and scary happenings — what’s not to like? Put them together, and you have a series that cobbles together a pretty strong rooting interest. We all need a show like this on the small screen again. But is there really a weekly series here?” — Tom Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter

The Writing
“[W]hen the characters start to talk to each other? ‘The River’ just feels like one poorly written TV show. ‘The River’ is swimming in bad dialogue and cliché characters and crammed full of conventional TV incident and fuzzy logic. Too much of it is maddeningly unconvincing.” — Hercules, Ain’t It Cool News

The Scares
“Many of the best moments of ‘The River’ are glimpses that flash by quickly; what’s more scary than the thing you think you see out of the corner of your eye? Those kinds of atmospheric moments are generally more effective than the bigger set pieces the show attempts with more easily identifiable villains or ghouls. But if you like creepy scares and unsettling happenings, this show keeps them coming with clockwork regularity.” — Maureen Ryan, The Huffington Post

The Final Word
“[T]he series’ embrace of its narrative style, its creation of such an ominous world and its skill for generating suspense practically out of thin air are all very impressive. And if [Joe] Anderson is annoying, he’s surrounded by a good mix of actors, including [Leslie] Hope, [Eloise] Mumford, Greenwood (seen frequently in archival footage of Emmet in happier times) and (as a shady mercenary protecting the Coles) Thomas Kretschmann. And in fairness, sometimes characters in horror stories have to be annoying and/or walking plot devices in order to make the story make any sense at all.” — Alan Sepinwall, HitFix


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