On Monday night I attended an advance screening of CTV's newest "series" The River. Following the British trend of short seasons, the first two episodes air on February 6th with the remaining six episodes to follow weekly.
What is The River? Created by Oren Peli, the brains behind the Paranormal 'found footage' horror franchise, this eight episode 'series' is about the search for Doctor Emmet Cole (played by Canadian Bruce Greenwood), a Steve Irwin type nature show host whose last expedition to the Amazon hasn't been heard from in six months.
After all searches were called off, but on the strength of a personal beacon being reactivated, the show's studio is willing to fund another search if the host's wife (played by Leslie Cole known for her role on 24) and estranged son (Joe Anderson now on the big screen in The Grey) go on it "with full film access." It reunites Cole's producer, mechanic, and daughter of his usual camera man, all of whom have spent the last twenty years tied to this program. And while Cole always ended his show with "There's Magic Out There," this series explores a darker approach to that wonder.
In the Q&A, Peli discussed the research they did into Amazonian & other tribal stories so that each episode could call on actual mythology. He also reassured the audience of 150 he loved the first few seasons of Lost, but learned that there must be a payoff; so each episode is its own horror tale all linked to satisfy the audience with the finale, but leaving questions for future seasons.
When asked about Steven Spielberg's role as an Executive Producer, Peli said he was surprisingly hands-on and involved in everything from casting to story ideas, to providing notes on scripts and even on different cuts. The shows style utilises two handheld and up to twelve other cameras, which does make it "a nightmare for the editor"; especially as only certain scenes were storyboarded while others the actors were given general guidelines and never knew which of the cameras on them. As an audience, you are often several 'cameras' removed from the action, watching the crew watch found footage. There is also historical footage interwoven to provide context for the relationships.
So what is the story behind The River? A small crew, deep in the Amazon, with more questions but at least the hope of answers, and the goal of family reunion -- for family by blood, by choice, and by convenience. I know I'll stay tuned.