Entertainment Magazine

Review #3297: The River 1.3: “Los Ciegos”

Posted on the 15 February 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Opinions on the effectiveness of “The River” will vary based on one’s reaction to the faux-documentary style that it employs. The hook of the show is all about the camera work. Otherwise, the content is rather standard fare. So there’s a lot of subjectivity in terms of whether or not the show will work. Already, I’ve seen people who love it, and people who couldn’t watch more than 15 minutes of it.

Review #3297: The River 1.3: “Los Ciegos”

The whole “found footage” sub-genre tends to fail due to a lack of fundamentals. It can be done well, but only if the footage is used in such a way as to build suspense at a slow, steady pace. If one is willing to accept the premise of the story being told, then it can work. Take “The Blair Witch Project” or “Paranormal Activity” as primary examples. Most walked into the film skeptical, and they got what they anticipated. Those who bought into the premise (something made easier by the group experience) were largely caught up in the well-paced psychological escalation of anxiety over what might happen next.

It’s much easier to establish the psychological pattern when events unfold over a longer period of time with no commercial breaks or musical score. It’s essential that the viewer not have an easy way to fall out of the spell, so to speak. “The River” tries to compensate for this by adopting a frenetic quick-cut, shock-tactic editing style to throw the audience off-balance. Psychologically, it creates anxiety, but it’s the cheap kind that doesn’t leave much of an impact when all is said and done. It’s more style than substance.

The gist of the problem for “The River” is that it wants to use the tropes that made “Paranormal Activity” work for a lot of people, without the benefit of holding their uninterrupted attention. So all too often, the moments staged to be most unsettling are telegraphed to the hilt. We know that the constant jump-cuts in the footage will only slow down for character beats or creepy events, and the music tells us instantly which it will be. There’s precious little chance for the material itself to unnerve or terrify on its own merits.

The difference in reaction to the first two episodes tells the story. The menace in the pilot was largely unseen, so we had to be told what was supposed to be scaring us. The second episode involved creepy dolls that moved on their own. Even when we knew exactly when something was going to happen, it was unnerving enough of a premise on its own.

This episode tries to capitalize on two similar ideas, and with Glen Morgan writing the episode, it had a good chance of doing so. The thought of suddenly going blind while being hunted down by killers is something we can absorb. And by establishing early in the episode that AJ’s history with underground spaces was harrowing in every possible way, his eventual trip under the tree with the blindness cure became a lot more potent. The final act of the episode was genuinely unnerving for anyone with claustrophobic tendencies.

Herein lies the problem: with standard production methods, this could have been a terrifying episode. It had all the right story DNA to get it done. Imagine this kind of story on “Supernatural” or “Fringe”, and it’s easy to see how it could have been an excellent little horror tale. But the production tricks employed actually took away from the impact, making it harder to relate to the characters and their reaction to what was happening to and around them.

I’m also on the fence as to whether or not the bigger picture gets in the way. It serves to tie the various horrific adventures together, but it also begs the viewer to ask why they would keep going when all of these terrible things have happened. I’m not convinced that they couldn’t leave, gather up better resources, and try again. The immediacy of that beacon that drove them to assume Cole needed assistance as soon as possible is no longer a factor.

We also learn in this episode that Kurt is working with someone on the outside, presumably to prevent the rest of the team from learning something about Emmet Cole and what he may have discovered. It seems that Cole came to close to something (“the Source”) that someone else didn’t want anyone to know about, which suggests a sinister government or corporate interest in whatever magical power is at the heart of this part of the Amazon.

It’s the kind of layer that, along with the physical presence of the Morcegos, grounds this episode more than the supernatural elements of the previous two episodes. Even the blindness points back to a substance the Morcegos cultivated from the jungle around them, not some magic on their part. I find those concepts to be better fodder for terror, at this point, than the usual bumps in the night. If only the production style didn’t get in the way.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 1/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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