I have mixed feelings about the whole "found footage" trope in modern motion pictures. My first memorable experience of this genre was "The Blair Witch Project." You may recall that, when that. . .let's say "movie"--came out, it was accompanied by a certain gastrointestinal phenomenon; to wit, numerous moviegoers found themselves nauseated during screenings. This had little if anything to do with the copious amount of tears and mucous streaming down Heather's (Heather Donahue) face
In fairness, though, filmmakers have apparently mastered the technique of pressing the image-stabilization button on their steadicams, and these movies don't nauseate people quite as often as they once did. And if the proliferation of "Paranormal Activity" movies is any indication, people still seem to enjoy this technique. Now, "found footage" has thoroughly entered the realm of cinematographic cliche, and it is ready to expand its reach into the next frontier, television.
"The River," created by two "Paranormal Activity" writers, Michael R. Perry and Oren Peli, tells the story of the search for Emmett Cole (Bruce Greenwood), a television naturalist gone missing in the Amazon. A camera crew follows Cole's son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson), his wife, Tess (Leslie Hope), and a handful of Cole's other friends and colleagues as they travel down the river. Along the way, they encounter numerous supernatural beings--ghosts, intelligent dragonflies, really creepy dolls (and this was just in the first two episodes!)--and find themselves frequently in mortal danger.
As a science-fiction/fantasy/adventure, the show is entertaining enough. Of course, the main interest of the show arises out of the found-footage conceit: We are ostensibly watching the footage of this group's adventures, which suggests, of course, that this whole story has already happened, and is not simply unfolding in front of us as we look on. And therein lies the problem. The presumed "hyperrealism" of the found footage genre makes viewers acutely aware of anything that suggests fictionality: I am willing to suspend disbelief and accept that demonic forces reside in the depths of the Amazon rain forest. But I become skeptical when this intentionally rough-looking, unpolished story is accompanied by background music. And a show that depends for its effect upon "chance" glimpses of otherworldly shenanigans caught fortuitously by an unsuspecting cameraman will suffer if a viewer (such as myself) finds himself wondering, "Wait, who the hell is filming this?" (The show gets around this problem somewhat by explaining that Cole's ship was otufitted with dozens of cameras, the better to capture everyday life. This strikes me as cheating, somewhat, but even so, there are times where I found myself thinking "How many different cameras did Cole need to set up in random doorways?")
I realize that this may come across as nit-picking. (WOS: "There are intelligent dragonflies possessing people, but the music is what's unbelievable?!?") Still, in a work where the style IS the substance, all these technicalities matter. While the found-footage format goes down the Amazon River, it needs to be careful not to jump the shark.