ABC's new series The River boasts quite the horror genre pedigree. The show, which premieres Tuesday night, is created by Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli and executive produced by Steven Spielberg — so perhaps it's no surprise that it's being touted as the "scariest TV show ever." Using the same shaky-camera, found-footage format that buoyed Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project to screaming success, The River follows a search party trekking through the Amazon in an attempt to locate a nature TV host named Emmet Cole who suddenly went missing six months earlier. Along the way, the group, which includes Cole's wife and son, encounter a slew of ominous supernatural terrors. (Watch the trailer below.) Is The River really that scary?
The River is delightfully terrifying: "Quick camera cuts, people in peril, freaky and scary happenings — what's not to like?" says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter. The River's simple, straightforward plot — the search for a missing man — allows it to really cultivate an eerie mood: The perfect combination of Lost, Heart of Darkness, and Paranormal Activity. Frightening things happen at a frightening pace, and the pilot is packed with startling "'WTF' moments galore."
"The River: TV review"
And the scares should keep on coming: The River sets up a formula that, unlike many other attempts at horror on TV, should work rather well week after week, says Alan Sepinwall at HitFix. Smartly, the series takes after The X-Files and sets up a "Monster of the Week" storytelling model, with each episode introducing a supernatural obstacle that must be "understood and solved on its own." These various monsters are "terrifyingly real," thanks to the found-footage format that "very effectively exploits what the cameras do and do not capture."
"Review: ABC's The River keeps the scares coming week after week"
If only it wasn't so clunky: The River is pretty scary, says David Wiegand at The San Francisco Chronicle. "But it also has moments of stupidity." In order to set up the various spooks, the characters are put in "trite, stock situations." Worse, they're often saddled with distractingly ridiculous dialogue that "sucks the fright out of the show for a moment." This shouldn't "entirely trump" the scariness of the show, but it certainly does "a good job of undermining it." There's potential for a genuinely creepy series, but right now, The River is too shallow to get there.
"The River review: Scary, but a little shallow"
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