When Dr. Emmet Cole, a celebrity naturalist with a hit show called The Undiscovered Country, goes missing in the Amazon, his wife Tess (Leslie Hope) and son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) head to Brazil with a reality TV crew in tow to search for him.
That's the basic premise of ABC's new horror series The River, which debuted Tuesday. What the Coles find is the doctor's abandoned river barge, the Magus, with a strange being locked inside its panic room and stacks of video tapes with footage suggesting supernatural forces at work. Once they get the boat up and running again, with the help of Cole's mechanic Emilio (Daniel Zacapa) and his perceptive daughter Jahel, they push on determined to find Cole alive.
Soon, the group, including the a private security guard (Thomas Kretschmann) and daughter of Dr. Cole's missing cameraman (Eloise Mumford), comes to an eerie colonial cemetery, where they think they've found a weeping girl who turns out to be a monkey wearing a doll's head, which leads them to a tree adorned with hundreds of dirty dolls. Yes, the dolls' eyes move and their heads turn as if they're watching the travelers, who for some reason decide to camp right there beneath them.
There are some scary moments in The River, which was filmed as if you're watching the unedited footage of the documentary crew, like when Tess gets swallowed up by what appears to be a shallow stream, resurfacing covered in mud and looking like a skeleton. But there's a lot of explaining to do of the mysteries the Coles and their crew discover in the spooky, uncharted stretches of the Amazon. Also, of the characters' shifting motivations and their questionable decisions when faced with horrifying things like a garden of hanging dolls.