With the success of ‘American Horror Story’ on cable, is it no wonder that the networks would want to try out a horror series of their own. ABC acquired one written by ‘Paranormal Activity’ creator Oren Peli called ‘The River.’ At the TCA Winter Press Tour, the cast and show runners were on hand to talk about what to expect with this found footage horror series.
‘The River’ is about the search for Dr. Emmet Cole, a nature show host who went missing while looking for magic in an uncharted region of the Amazon. When his emergency beacon suddenly goes off 6 months later, his wife and son decide to search for him. They form a search team and to help fund the rescue, allow Cole’s ex-show producer to film the rescue as a documentary. In the Amazon, there are all sorts of dangers, and not all are from this realm.
The series will have a short 8 episode run but instead of having an ongoing complex storyline running through each episode, executive producer Michael Green (‘Smallville’, ‘Heroes’) stated that ‘The River’ will have standalone episodes (similar to the style of ‘X-Files’ which inspired the series). Each episode will be in itself “its own horror film’ with “longer-term horizontal arcs.”
Of course, because ‘The River’ is on network television, there is a limit to how scary it can get. While ‘American Horror Story’ did rely on gore for scares, expect a lot of the real fright to come from the anticipation that something is going to happen in the series.” Sound (plays) a very important role in ‘The River’,” says Peli, “and we think it will play very well on the TV. We were all on the same page saying we want to create scares not with gory imagery or visuals. We want to create anxiety and tension that allows the viewers to fill in their blanks and create the worst nightmare scenario.” According to Green, the networks did tell him that he could go as scary as he wanted as long as he was able to make the viewers care about the people. But don’t get too attached to the characters as per producers, you never know who will perish in the Amazon.
Although Steven Spielberg is listed as an executive producer, his input is more on the creative side. “Mostly, what we hear from Steven filters through his executives,” confirmed Green, “He’ll weigh in with key points while we’re in development of the series and in the seasonal arc, where he weighed in quite a bit in our case. Once we’re in production, his executives will forward us his emails.” Normally the e-mails will consist of adjustments he’d like to see after reviewing cuts to emphasize certain moments, but not all his ideas hit the mark according to Green. “Sometimes it’s a wonderful idea and sometimes it’s not exactly what we want to do but it’s always cool to hear it.”
The pilot was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (‘Orphan’, ‘Mindscape’) so I expect it to be pretty impressive. Overall ‘The River’ sounds like it could be a hit for ABC except for the found footage format. Although the producers feel like the technique will make the show “more improvisational, a lot scarier, and more real”, I can’t help that it will feel like after awhile, I’m watching home movies. It may be a technique that will work early in the series and in bits and pieces, but as the episodes go on, I can see it become more tiresome and stale. Let’s hope this isn’t the case as I really enjoyed ‘American Horror Story’ and am up for something new.
‘The River’ stars Bruce Greenwood (‘Star Trek’), Leslie Hope, Joe Anderson (‘The Crazies’, ‘The Twilight Saga’) and Thomas Kretschmann (‘Dracula 3D’, ‘King Kong’) and will air on ABC beginning February 7.