The smartly crafted River is about Bruce Greenwood’s Dr. Emmet Cole, a TV-famous naturalist who hosted a family-friendly show, The Undiscovered Country. Cole has disappeared, and now his wife, Tess (24’s Leslie Hope), and estranged son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson), have returned to the Amazon jungle to find him. They get the financial backing to take this journey upriver into a supernatural heart of darkness from a TV producer (Paul Blackthorne) who films the trip.
We see much of the action as the camera operator does, which adds immediacy to the events; there are also cameras discreetly installed on the boat the crew uses, which show us actions (mostly people doing sneaky things) that few of the other characters are privy to. Such a setup could easily have been hokey, but The River plays by the rules it lays out: We see weird events happening and understand a teeny bit more than the protagonists do, and just when we think we know what’s going on — bam! — something violent or strange occurs.
The River was co-created by Oren Peli and Michael R. Perry, both involved in the Paranormal Activity franchise. There are aspects of Lost in the River concept — unsettling jungle areas, fantastical elements, and a crew of people who all have their own agendas.
The performances are good but constrained by the parameters of scary-story acting: Each actor must remain rather blank so that the terror registers vividly. The River has an eight-episode order; I’m curious to see how many of its questions are answered, how many are left dangling, and how hooked we get over two months. B+