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Dustin Putman

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White Noise (2005)

Directed by Geoffrey Sax
Cast: Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice, Chandra West, Sarah Strange, Nicholas Elia, Keegan Connor Tracy, Amber Rothwell, Mike Dopud, Suzanne Ristic, Miranda Frigon
2005 – 99 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, thematic material, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 5, 2005.

Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) - The process in which the dead contact the living through everyday household recording devices.

Kudos should go right away to Universal Pictures for concocting a bang-up advertising campaign for "White Noise." The trailers and television spots do not give much of anything away concerning the plot, all the while using allegedly real EVP recordings to introduce the viewer to the supernatural subject in which the film is about. The result is one of the creepiest, most skin-crawling trailers in some time. If there is a flaw in the ad campaign, however, it is in its pretentious claim that the movie is one of the most disturbing ever made. Any film that is advertised in such a high-and-mighty fashion is (1) destined to disappoint, and (2) a sign of studio desperation.

"White Noise" is both of these things and much more. Directed by television veteran Geoffrey Sax, it is an utterly abysmal wannabe-horror film that elicits one effective, albeit predictable, jolt, and a whole lot of unintended audience snickering. The film is never even remotely frightening—the aforementioned trailer is worlds above this lame finished product in terms of a visceral response—and only grows more and more preposterous with each new inane plot development. Screenwriter Niall Johnson offends by taking the intriguing, unsettling subject of Electronic Voice Phenomenon and not treating it with plausibility or respect. For him, this ingenious topic is a mere plot device in which to hang a bunch of unsubtle otherworldly hooey and a heap of stupidity upon.

Successful architect Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) seemingly has it all—a gorgeous home overlooking a tranquil lake, a loving young son named Mike (Nicholas Elia), and a wonderful relationship with second wife, novelist Anna (Chandra West), who has just told him they are going to be parents. This peaceful life is tragically cut short when Anna mysteriously disappears and, subsequently, is found dead. Soon after, Jonathan is visited by Raymond Price (Ian McNeice), who claims to be the receiver of messages from the beyond and has been contacted by Anna. Jonathan naturally doesn't believe him, but, when six months pass and he still hasn't come to terms with his wife's death, he seeks the help of Raymond. What Jonathan finds is an audio recording of Anna's voice calling his name amidst static. He is instantly sold on EVP, and becomes obsessed with contacting and capturing his wife through audio and video recordings. As he is warned by worried telepathic Mirabelle (Keegan Connor Tracy), though, "It is one thing to contact the dead. It's another thing to meddle, and you are meddling!"

If "White Noise" were to simply tell the story of a grieving widow who, through using EVP, unwittingly rustles up less-than-friendly spirits, the film might have had a chance at being both a scary cinematic ride and a thought-provoking rumination on life, death, and the possibilities of a place in between. Instead of trusting such an unnerving notion to guide his story and characters, director Geoffrey Sax strains all sense of credibility and the noted capabilities of Electronic Voice Phenomenon to present a laughable motion picture filled with cheap, loud musical stings in place of actual scares and a rising nonsensical plot that involves everything from a serial killer to possession to swirling evil spirits to cheesy apparitions to silly "Unbreakable"-style average-guy-turned-savior theatrics. It all becomes too much, an overstuffed, almost incomprehensible melting pot of bad ideas and countless story holes.

After the film, ask yourselves the following questions. Why was Jonathan abruptly chosen to help out people in danger? How was he able to contact deceased beings he did not know in a place they never lived at or even occupied? How would Raymond know to get in touch with Jonathan, a complete stranger, after hearing Anna's voice—a person whom he also did not previously know—in one of his EVP recordings? How can Jonathan do the same thing later in the movie? Why did Anna have to be so obscure in her contacts with him at certain inopportune times and so clear in her information to him at other points? And, most curious of all, how could a woman fall no less than six or seven stories, smash onto a glass roof, and miraculously survive? The makers of "White Noise" hold such a contempt for their audience that it quickly becomes an insult to the intelligence.

The purportedly genuine EVP recordings heard in the trailer for "White Noise" were so unshakably scary for the simple fact that they seemed real, just as they do on many websites devoted to the phenomenon and in the excellent Sci-Fi Channel series, "Ghost Hunters." In the end product here, the ghostly audio and video feedback Jonathan receives is too clearly heard, too frequent in their arrival, and not ominous enough to sound like anything more than actors speaking into a microphone.

In his first leading man role in years, Michael Keaton (2004's "First Daughter") has trouble getting a handle on his admittedly thinly written role of Jonathan Rivers, and doesn't believably exude the feelings of emotional loss and devastation required of him. Jonathan is also, as far as one can tell, perfect, with nary a character flaw in sight to deepen and actualize his onscreen life. As Sarah, a woman also dabbling in EVPs to deal with her own loss, Deborah Kara Unger's (2004's "A Love Song for Bobby Long") participation goes unrewarded.

"White Noise" is the very first 2005 release, and it is also an instant contender for one of the very worst movies of the year. As a horror film, it is overblown, scareless, and repetitive, with no idea how to raise one's heartbeat or create even a minimum level of tension. As a melodrama about a man dealing with the death of his wife, it is more artificial and dopey than 2002's terrible "Dragonfly," in which Kevin Costner was haunted by his dead spouse. And, as a representation of the EVP process, it is so far-fetched the viewer will scarcely believe their own eyes half the time. Beautifully shot with a moody, bluish sheen, the stylish cinematography is the picture's only bright spot. On all other counts, "White Noise" is amateurish, dim-witted to the point of annoyance, and odious in its condescension. Watch the trailer again, get adequately spooked out, and leave this haphazard production to die and rot in future video bargain bins around the world.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman