In 2007, Oren Peli used his own savings to fund the film Paranormal Activity, which re-invented the found-footage horror style of filmmaking. Five years later, Peli is bringing the found-footage style to the small screen in "The River," which premiered on ABC Tuesday Feb. 7.
The concept of "The River" is simple: Emmet Cole, a naturalist and host of the show "The Undiscovered Country," goes missing on the Amazon River along with the rest of his crew. Although rescue teams searched the river for six months without a trace of Cole or his ship the Magus, the network agrees to fund one last search party on the condition that the entire trip can be filmed.
The search party is comprised of Cole's wife Tess, his son Lincoln, producer of "Undiscovered Country" named Clark, the ship's mechanic Emilio, Jahel his daughter, Lena the daughter of one of the missing crewmembers, A.J. the cameraman, and Kurt the hired gun.
Once the rescue team finds the Magus in an uncharted region of the Amazon, the tone of the show quickly turns toward the supernatural when the group accidentally releases a vengeful spirit from the bowels of the ship.
It seems that Cole had set on a quest to prove his show's catchphrase, "There's magic out there," and fell deeper into the arcane than he expected. In the second episode, there's an especially eerie scene in the jungle where the group comes across a tree laden with old dolls that are made as offerings to the spirit of a lonely little girl who kills for company.
Based on the first two episodes, which are available on Hulu, "The River" has a lot of potential. The handheld cameras are pretty stable, the acting is solid and the characters have all been given distinct personalities that make them vital to the rescue mission. The story itself is fascinating enough to carry a television show as long as the writers keep up the suspense that worked so well in the first two episodes. Although there are classic horror techniques employed, the shocks are so well shot that it's impossible not to jump.
"The River" airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on ABC.