STARRING: Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Chandra West, Ian McNeice

2005, 101 Minutes, Directed by: Geoffrey Sax

I see dead people. So what?

It’s maddening how close White Noise came to be a good movie, a screamer of a horror flick where the paranormal infects gleaming high tech. But like so many flicks churned out of Hollywood, the last act threw logic out of the window, opting instead for senseless special effects showboating.

Michael Keaton stars as Jonathan Rivers, an architect who loses his second wife in an apparent accident. As he mopes and mourns his loss, a stranger (Ian McNeice) assures him that the dead can communicate from the other side. Jonathan is introduced to EVP – Electronic Voice Phenomenon – where voices of the dead can sometimes be heard over static or “white noise.” Chilling enough premise?

As Jonathan busily sets up his walkie-talkie to the beyond, he discovers that the messages are not all from his wife. In fact, some messages come from other ghosts and are down right threatening. Perhaps remembering his Batman past, Jonathan decides to help others by passing on the creepy voice mails from the underworld.

EVPs are not new in pop culture. Remember Poltergeist and the little girl talking to a TV screen full of ‘white noise?’ And The Ring played some major mind games with ghosts and television sets. Coincidentally, here in the U.S., the Sci-Fi Channel has been running marathons of The Twilight Zone as well as the new series, Ghosthunters. Both of these series examined EVPs so the timing was perfect for a movie like White Noise to grab the public’s imagination about what was apparently more of a fringe interest – this is something Mulder would do on his spare time – listen to radio static for a message or two from the ghosts in the machine.

"Ultimately, White Noise falls apart when the script runs out of steam . . ."

Veteran British TV director Geoffrey Sax does a great job building the movie’s pace slowly and intently as Jonathan methodically converts from skeptic to EVP believer. By the time he’s bought a boatload of video and audio equipment, he’s already ignoring his young son for fleeting sound or video glimpses of his wife.

Deborah Kara Unger co-stars as a bookstore owner who also believes in EVPs. However, she’s given precious little to do, aside from looking fearfully into computer monitors. Ian McNeice’s EVP researcher character is another example of lost potential. Having studied EVPs for over 20 years, the researcher’s house is a library of mysterious tapes and discs with log books of mutterings from the dead. Too bad there’s little time spent there. The scares of are of the abrupt surprise variety – especially suited to late night listening of EVPs.

Keaton, who has yet to shake the stench of Jack Frost from his career, begins sturdily enough as the saddened widower. He’s also pretty good playing obsessed as Jonathan delves deeper into EVPs. There’s a lost point in the movie when his young son asks him if he’s all right. Though he answers, yes, it’s a not-so-subtle suggestion that Jonathan doesn’t realize that he’s too far-gone, ignoring his family and his job.

Ultimately, White Noise falls apart when the script runs out of steam. It’s not enough for Jonathan to hear from his dead wife. Nope, it’s time to bring in the boogeymen and turn the movie from a modern day Exorcist into a B-movie chiller with lots of scary sound design like a THX pre-test gone amok. Director Sax throws out all his good work building and pacing the suspense to finish off the movie with some jaw-dropping stupidity. It’s as if he were possessed (by poor test screening scores, no doubt) to make an ending that finishes off improbably and illogically. And that’s the scariest thing about White Noise.

- Harrison Cheung

A bland and uninvolving Sixth Sense wannabe. Michael Keaton is completely wasted and the only thing that could have saved it would have been a Deborah Kara Unger nude scene. Alas, no such luck.  James O'Ehley



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