Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer DVR Dump: The River 1.01: "Magus"

“Yeah, well, that’s the point, Clark. Science isn’t a great big wonder anymore. Discoveries are made in a lab, not the jungle.”

For our first Summer DVR Dump of the summer, we’re going to be looking at ABC’s short-lived horror series, “The River.” From what I’ve seen of this episode, there isn’t a ton of substance to it, but I don’t really expect a lot of substance from horror, and what it tries to do, it generally does quite well. There are intriguing characters, a pretty creative premise, and plenty of scares. The show centers around the disappearance of Dr. Emmet Cole, a Steve Irwin-like naturalist and television personality who, during its heyday in the 1980s and 90s, often included his wife Tess and son Lincoln in his show. Many years later, when Emmet has become rather estranged from his family (but is still filming his television show), he disappears in the Amazon, and a production crew convinces Tess and Lincoln to film a television series out of the search. Created by “Paranormal Activity” mastermind Oren Peli and continuing in the tradition of that film and “The Blair Witch Project," the show uses faux “found footage” to bring the scares. And given the show’s likely small budget, the creative team does a decent job bringing those scares.

The episode opens with footage from Emmet’s television show, circa 1998, and it introduces us to Emmet’s catch-phrase, “There’s magic out there.” We see a few more, slightly later clips, where it starts to look like there is trouble in the paradise that is the Cole family. I really like the use of the archival footage in the show thus far. It sets the appropriately creepy mood, mostly because it reminds me of all the old DHARMA Initiative films from “Lost.” Anyway, we quickly zoom forward to the present day, where Emmet is presumed dead and Lincoln has just given a speech at his memorial service. Tess, in an extremely tacky move, recruits Lincoln to join the search expedition on camera while he’s in the bar post memorial service. At first, Lincoln wants nothing to do with it, and he’s rightfully pissed that his mother is still peddling false hope, even after the memorial. Then Tess explains that Emmet’s emergency beacon has started emitting a signal, and it is possible to find it.

Next thing we know, Tess, Lincoln, and a group of Emmet’s former crew are all on a boat in the Amazon. The crew includes producer Clark Quietly (played by Harry Dresden himself, Paul Blackthorne), cameramen A.J. and Sammy, bodyguard Kurt, engineer Emilio, and Emilio’s equally handy daughter Jahel. Anyway, they find the beacon fairly quickly, but there is no sign of Emmet. As they’re taking a little R and R at a village (and Lincoln is being a hero using his doctoring skills on the locals), a helicopter touches down. The crew is then joined by Lena, the daughter of Emmet’s cameraman. She wants to find her own father, too, and she says she knows where to find the Magus.

Lena’s instructions lead the team deep into the jungle, to an area that isn’t even mapped well. Emilio and Jahel say this is because bad supernatural creatures reside there. Soon enough, the Magus is found, but that’s really only the beginning of the strangeness and the creepiness. Right from the get-go, the team notices all manner of strange noises. Which seems like it would be a good sign to run away, but apparently not for this group. Clark works on getting the ship’s cameras up and running while the rest of the crew tries to get into the panic room, the door of which has been welded shut. I guess they figure Emmet might be inside. Eventually they succeed in cutting their way into the room, and Lincoln makes the bonehead move of opening up this small, coffin-like container. Energy bursts out and sends Lena flying across the room. She ends up with a kind of serious laceration on her leg that Lincoln, with his mad doctoring skills, has to stitch up as they reminisce about growing up together on the Magus.

Just as things kind of calm down a little, we learn that it’s about to get much, much worse. Jahel is upset because Lena’s blood is now on the container that Lincoln opened. Before Lincoln opened it, the container had trapped Corpuseco, a pretty nasty spirit. Opening the trap was a bad idea to begin with, but getting Lena’s blood on it has made Corpuseco even stronger. For some inexplicable reason, Lincoln takes Jahel’s warning seriously, and he rushes to the deck of the ship to give the order to leave immediately. He wants the whole crew back on the rafts ASAP. There’s only one not-so-tiny problem. The rafts have all been slashed, so the crew can’t use them to go anywhere. Their next option is to get the Magus running again and use it to escape. Emilio and Jahel are going to fix the engine, and Lincoln is going to clear the rudder of debris. Lena helps Lincoln with the rudder, which seems really stupid to me. Going in Amazon River water with a healing wound seems like asking for infection.

Anyway, Lena mentions something about how Emmet had contacted her asking about backups of the footage he shot, and this makes Lena realize that she can probably find the footage somewhere in the Magus. She does indeed find the tapes, and she shows them to the team. The footage is creepy stuff of Emmet performing creepy rituals. In one shot, he seems to be holding fire in his hands. He says that Corpuseco is actually the spirit of Cam Travers, a producer on the show who had died. There’s also some footage of a very harried-looking Emmet saying that he is close to finding “The Source.” If “The Source” is a glowy cave protected by a very angry woman who looks like Alison Janney, I’m going to scream.

Elsewhere on the ship, Lincoln has a bit of a confrontation with his mother. He’s been wondering why, when he was a kid, they all-of-a-sudden stopped going on expeditions with Emmet. Lincoln can only conclude that his mom was having an affair, and she doesn’t deny it. Before they can really discus this revelation, however, the ship starts to move. Corpuseco is not happy that its prey is getting away, and it goes on quite the rampage, smashing the ship about. Cameraman Sammy, trying to prove that he’s just as daring as his boss A.J., gets to close to the action and is killed. Can’t have a horror series without a significant number of deaths, right? Lincoln’s had it, and he rushes up to the deck with the soul trap container thing. He puts some of his own blood on it and tries to re-trap Corpuseco. Tess, however, goes completely stupid, and starts yelling at “Cam Travers” to tell her if Emmet is alive. She wants “one for no and two for yes.” Corpuseco responds with two lacerations, for “yes,” presumably. Lincoln is then able to trap Corpuseco, and Lena throws the trap overboard.

We next see the Magus and her crew in daylight. They’re still motoring through the water, and things seem much more calm. Chad sits happily in the camera bay, presumably getting ready to edit some footage, when he catches Kurt the bodyguard on the phone. Kurt is basically saying that if Emmet did indeed find The Source, he’ll put him down. So there is an angry person protecting The Source after all, just not one who looks like Alison Janney! Anyway, with the light of day having somewhat restored everyone’s sanity, Lincoln says that he wants to continue the search for Emmet. He now believes that his father is alive, and he wants to find him. So the Magus continues to motor through the jungle, for better or worse.

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