It’s all about character (also: The River)

This week’s Columbus Alive has a short interview with movie/TV writer Michael R. Perry (Millenium, Paranormal Activity 2), a Columbus native. It’s fairly lightweight, basically a fluff piece about his writing gig on the new ABC series The River, but I did like this little snippet:

“Television is all about character, and I think horror is all about character. Sam Raimi told me, ‘You have to create characters that people love and then punish them.'”

Tangentially, I did watch the first episode of the show last week. And although it’s got a great hook as the premise (a family and crew go searching in the Amazon for a missing nature host with a secret involving dark magic) it didn’t grab me enough to invest in watching the show on a regular basis. Part of the turn-off factor for me was the found footage/mocumentary style of filming the show, with multiple handheld cameras. While it does match well with the structure of the show’s narrative, and is a style that can be used to great effect, I find it best suited for a standalone movie. Watching that week after week on a serial show would get annoying.

Which brings me to the other reason the show didn’t resonate with me: most of the characters are annoying. Perry states:

“A huge part of developing ‘The River’ was trying to figure out who the nine people are. The trick is everybody has a duel agenda.”

It’s a trick they managed, as they did a good job of coming up with 9 fairly distinct personalities and motivations (no easy task), but unfortunately none of them are likeable. Also, constant reaction shots of 9 different characters giving 9 different emotional (and secretive) responses to the same event got tiring in the first episode, so I can’t imagine watching a whole season of that. And finally, there was the complete lack of humor, which I believe helps to humanize your characters. Sure, at its heart The River is a “horror” show, but if Raimi’s guideline is to first “create characters that people love,” they can’t all be angst-ridden, secretive manipulators.

I know it’s not quite fair to judge the whole show by just a single episode, so obviously your mileage may vary. But going back to the original reason I started this post (before it meandered into a TV show review), I like that simple bit from Raimi on how he approaches horror.