Directed by Geoffrey Sax. Starring Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice, Chandra West, Sarah Strange, Nicholas Elia, Keegan Connor Tracy, Amber Rothwell. (2005, PG-13, 101 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 7, 2005
There’s not much more to this poorly scripted thriller than exactly one well-done shock moment and Michael Keaton’s eyebrows, but, to be fair, Keaton’s brows have carried three Tim Burton films nearly on their own, so don’t let this dissuade you from seeing the film. It’s much ado about nothing, actually, or very little: that being the oft-debunked psychic friends rigmarole known in the spook hunting biz as EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomenon, the pseudo-science of recording the voices or images of the dead on electronic equipment. This is what globalism has done to the mediums: Once content to envisage the Virgin Mary on a tortilla, they now have to hang around the local Circuit City and hope Sony slashes the prices on their ectoplasma televisions before they can get in touch with Auntie Mame to discover that she never really loved them after all. That’s progress. Keaton plays architect Jonathan Rivers, who lives with his novelist wife, Anna (West), in the sort of neo-Soviet concrete-and-steel monstrosity that passes for hip in certain architectural circles these days. On the same day that his wife joyfully announces there may be a child on the way, she goes missing and stays missing for some six months. In the interim, Jonathan is approached out of the blue and led into the black by portly EVP fan Raymond Price (McNeice), who has been receiving Anna’s monosyllabic messages from beyond both the grave and the pale. As it turns out, Anna is indeed dead, and thus her grieving husband immediately makes that dread, pricey journey to Circuit City and refashions his rumpus room to resemble something akin to the Lone Gunmen’s X-Files hideaway: He want to bereave. There, with the assistance of EVP booster and recent widow Sarah Tate (Unger), he struggles to comprehend why his dead wife is telling him to go to places he’s never heard of and if, perhaps, a high-definition set might have been a better choice for the money. White Noise has an interesting premise and one that would have worked had someone other than Niall Johnson penned the script, but that’s not the case. The film moves from romantic, Ghost-like ennui to overt Scooby-Dooisms about midway through, right about the time three shadowy figures begin stalking Jonathan for no apparent reason whatsoever. (If there’s one thing you’d think we’d have learned from the Mystery Inc. gang, it’s that meddling isn’t for amateurs.) Despite the frequent and inexplicable plot errors that riddle this film like the holes in Charlie Brown’s Halloween costume, the film has a certain creepy flair, thanks in large part to cinematographer Chris Seager, who’s clearly been studying the urban anti-flair found in the recent wave of technology-oriented Asian horror films like Byeong-ki Ahn’s Phone and the videocentric horrors of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu series. That beauty is only skin-deep, however, and snazzy cinematography aside, White Noise is little more than a droning nonsensical buzz that makes even less sense at its end than it does at its beginning.