Disclaimer: My reviews of media here do not mean that I lay any claim to the media in question. All reviews are entirely subjective. I may talk about how well the movie objectively works in my opinion, but it essentially all comes down to what I think of the movie. My liking a movie is not the same as thinking it's a great movie. If I trash a movie that you love, or love a movie you can’t stand, it’s not because I hate you. Also, all reviews are likely to contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the movies in question and don’t want to know what happens, then you probably shouldn’t be reading about them here. Finally, a blanket trigger warning for people who don't want to read about common horror movie content such as sexism, racism, violence, etc.: I will likely discuss all of the above when they show up in the films I review, so please tread with caution. Check out this post for more on how my reviews are set up.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Horror Episode Review: The River, Episode 8

Episode 8: Row Row Row Your Boat

Overall: C+
Acting: C+
Writing: C
Story: C
Technical aspects: C+
Effects: B

Directed by:
Gary Fleder

Joe Anderson
Leslie Hope
Eloise Mumford
Paul Blackthorne
Daniel Zacapa
Pauline Gaitan
Thomas Kretschmann
Shaun Parkes
Bruce Greenwood
Scott Michael Foster

So. Yeah.

            Having found Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), the crew of the Magus is finally heading for home, intending to leave the Boíuna (the bizarre portion of the river they’ve been on) far behind them. Clark (Paul Blackthorne) gets involved with doing some final interviews for the crew, and speaks about how he’ll edit the video together for his TV show once they get home. Emmet, while surprised that the Boíuna and the related supernatural entities saved his life, seems to feel his quest was a mistake. He believes that the paranormal events that occurred really were warnings that he should have heeded. Lena (Eloise Mumford) desperately wants to know how she’s connected to everything, with her suspicious birthmark, but Emmet tells her to forget it, that he was wrong in thinking that the two of them had some special destiny related to the place.
            While Lincoln (Joe Anderson) and Emmet converse on deck, someone fires a shot at Emmet, but misses and fatally wounds Lincoln. The crew is unsuccessful at finding out the culprit since many have motives; Clark is in love with Tess, Jonas (Scott Michael Foster) was abandoned by Emmet, Kurt (Thomas Kretschmann) was overheard planning to kill Emmet (though he insists he’d never have missed the shot), Lena’s father died because of Emmet’s quest…
            [Spoilers ahead!]
            Against Emmet’s wishes and the wishes of her own father, Jahel (Pauline Gaitan) involves Tess in a ritual to call Lincoln’s spirit back to his body. The ritual involves calling on the Boíuna, which is not only the stretch of river, but is also an entity that is “God of Demons,” to return Lincoln’s spirit. Initially it seems to work, and Lincoln awakes, and says it was Kurt who shot him. Kurt is locked away by the crew. But then when alone in the kitchen with Jonas, Lincoln reveals that he actually saw Jonas shoot him. Then Lincoln kills him with seemingly supernatural strength. An obviously not-himself Lincoln also confronts Kurt, speaking German, telling him that Kurt isn’t needed to protect The Source; Lincoln (or the thing in his body) is enough.
            Meanwhile, Emmet realizes that this can’t really be Lincoln; he’s too affectionate towards Emmet, when they haven’t been on good terms since Lincoln’s childhood. Emmet gets Lena to make Lincoln drink something, which sickens him and proves demonic possession.
            It turns out the Boíuna is also possessing his body, though Lincoln’s spirit is there as well. The demon taunts them, especially Emmet and his lack of knowledge about Lincoln, and assaults Lena, thwarting their attempts at an exorcism. Eventually they speak to Kurt, as he had his own reasons for being in the region. He tells them he won’t attack Emmet, and then explains that a demonic possession can only be fought from within; Lincoln has to will the Boíuna out of his body. Speaking to Lincoln, they give him enough strength to take his body back.
            Afterwards, Emilio (Daniel Zacapa) speaks to Jahel, telling her why he’s tried to keep her from using her gifts. Her mother, who she believed to be dead, was driven mad by the voices of spirits demanding her help. He hasn’t wanted the same fate for Jahel.
            Soon they approach the end of the Boíuna, intending to rejoin the main Amazon, and a small village. But things aren’t where they’re supposed to be! And they lose the link to the satellite map! Sending up a sky camera, it’s revealed that the forest and river are literally changing in front of them, and it will not allow them to leave.
            [End of serious plot spoilers. But spoilers will continue in my reaction below.]

            So. This is how this season ends. The episode isn’t really all that bad. The demonic possession thing is at least fitting with the rest of the series. And quite honestly, the effects of Lincoln twisting around while possessed have been some of the better ones in my opinion. Characterizing the Boíuna as both an entity and a location simultaneously is cool; it strikes me as at least feeling rather authentic to the region, even if the specific entity in question isn’t a real figure. (And I do not know if it is or not.)
            However, for a show that has a questionable future, this was an immensely unsatisfying ending. Literally just about nothing has been wrapped up or given explanation. Leaving some things to interpretation or as mysteries is one thing, especially if there’s a definite future for the series to continue with, or if something being unexplained has some sort of point. But this is pretty much NOTHING, verging into the territory Lost infamously fell into with “we just didn’t plan this shit out!” Other than some random things like Clark doing final interviews, this didn’t in any way feel like a season finale. Not that I was expecting (or wanting!) it to end with them all surviving and making it home, but that this feels just like an episode from the middle of a story somewhere, with no real sense of closure whatsoever.
            A few of the things we’re left wondering about: What is with Lena’s birthmark, and the prophecy tied to it that Emmet believed in? What exactly is The Source? Why was Emmet’s life spared if the Boiuna won’t allow them to leave? Is there more explanation about the “angel-like” Zulo tribe? Why is Kurt there, and what is his connection to the area from before the series? What was with the research facility Mina had infiltrated, and how/why did they turn into zombies? Who locked the demon in the Magus, the one they found in the very first episode? If they never make it off the river, how are we viewing “found footage” from their tapes? And this is not an exhaustive list.
            In having none of these things explained, it feels like many of them had no purpose whatsoever. “The Source” was kind of downplayed here, with the Boíuna itself being the entity responsible for at least some of the paranormal things, contrasted to episode 6 when it was played up as what Emmet had devoted his life to finding. The symbol on the necklace Emmet gave to Lincoln, which is also Lena’s birthmark, which was also seen on the body of Zulo tribesman in the research facility… that and the supposed prophecy have never been relevant to the plot! So why were they in there at all? Why have a forced camera footage feel, which was often a detriment, feeling contrived and awkward, without having any plausible way for the “found footage” to actually be found?
            Now, the series isn’t officially cancelled. But it isn’t renewed officially yet, either. Viewership has been pretty low and declining, which I can’t really fault audiences for considering how disappointing most of the episodes have been. Apparently there are talks to move the show to Netflix’s streaming service for future episodes/seasons. And there’s no guarantee that even if someone makes more of the series that it’ll follow the same characters.
            If this episode came in the middle somewhere, this would probably be one of my favorites. The demonic possession was fitting for the series, and was well handled. I liked Joe Anderson’s acting between Lincoln as normal and in his possessed state – it was subtle enough until the attempted exorcisms that it didn’t seem ridiculous, but the difference was obvious. The rest of the acting was competent, though not perfect. Like I said, the effects were pretty good this time, and the story was engaging. If this had been “just another episode” it’d be a solid B. But as it is, it’s such an unsatisfying ending to the season (and maybe the series) that I have to knock it down just a bit. C+ still seems generous for how unfulfilling it was as a finale, but I did enjoy the episode, and don’t want to let feelings on the series as a whole color that too much.

            Because as a whole, the series disappointed me. The quality was very all over the place, straying from subtlety to over the top ridiculousness in almost every aspect, from acting to writing to effects to story. Some of the characters are intriguing; I’ve grown to like Kurt quite a bit, and Jahel is great when she gets to do something besides provide plot-relevant exposition. The understated drama and implication that Emmet focused too much on Lena because of her birthmark, and that being the cause for the emotional distance between him and Lincoln had potential, especially if Lena was going to have some type of special “destiny” that Lincoln didn’t. But the lack of consistency, not to mention dangling plot threads, is a huge problem for the series. While my individual episode grades have ranged from average (C), to slightly above average (B-), the series as a whole would probably wind up more with a C-. Not quite bad enough for a D, but still below average, because of all that inconsistency and wasted potential.
            Additionally, this feels like exactly the wrong length for this story to be. It could have been a decent movie, and could have lost a lot of the irrelevant filler that so many earlier episodes contained. Or it could have been a better long-form series, where episodes focusing on single legends, areas, or creatures would be more appropriate, and episodes could be devoted to character development without sacrificing so much of a limited amount of time. Of course, there’s the possibility that the series will continue and will wrap up all the loose ends I’m complaining about. But there’s also a possibility that it will do no such thing. And even if it does come back to wrap things up and maybe even gain some consistency… will enough people still care?

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