Thrillers such as “White Noise” which open with a history lesson usually start in a ditch and must work its way up if the audience is going to react positively. But supernatural suspense thrillers shouldn’t have to build a case to justify its production. “White Noise” tries by opening with a Thomas Edison quote from 1928 theorizing the possibility of being able to record the dead, and how we must do so if it’s actually possible.
This is followed by an explanation of what E.V.P. stands for; assuming you haven’t seen the trailer which explains the same thing: E.V.P. stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena -- in by which the dead try to communicate distortedly to loved ones via radio static and television snow. Basically, people who lived and died before the days of electricity were screwed.
But instead of being called “E.V.P.” the film is titled “White Noise,” which in the real world is a term used to define overlooked errors in political science research. In Hollywood, it’s the sound of a radio that suddenly powers on to the highest volume setting from being silent in order to scare the audience in the cheapest way possible; just short of the black-cat-in-hiding routine.
The loud radio gag is just one of the desperate scare tactics the film uses semi-frequently interwoven with an incredibly boring story in order to move itself along. It stars Michael Keaton as Jonathan Rivers, a well-known architect who lives peacefully with his son, Mike (Nicholas Elia), and wife, Anna (Chandra West), in an upscale home I assume was designed by Mr. Rivers himself.
All is well, that is, until Anna tells Jon she’s pregnant. He gets excited. They kiss. They kiss again. Anna leaves for work but will not return home alive. If I just gave anything away then you must not be familiar with this genre.
What follows is pulled right out of the crappy thriller playbook: Jon will watch home movies of Anna doing things you don’t normally record, such as brining in the groceries. But because you never know when your pregnant wife or cute son or fuzzy dog is going to get the axe, it’s always good to keep stock footage around so you can watch it over and over again -- only to be interrupted by That Guy who shows up to tell you that your loved one is communicating with him from the grave.
So Jon visits the portly British bloke (Ian McNeice) whose home is stocked with all sorts of electronic equipment used to record the very active deceased. Jon is impressed and sets up a rig of his own that -- notes critic Wesley Morris -- “looks like Circuit City came to install a bunch of equipment in Keaton's old Batcave.”
Come to think of it, the Batcave is a fair comparison because once Jon starts receiving messages from his wife he is then instructed to embark on a series of night missions throughout the deserted city in order to save people before impending doom. This isn’t really a movie about E.V.P., but instead Michael Keaton’s second “Batman” sequel.
But no one cares. Sure, the sudden crashing noises and high-pitched radio screams can be startling…to those who’ve suddenly awoken after having fallen asleep. Those who manage to stay awake through the long investigations, journal logs and coded messages will not be impressed.
Never do we fear for Jon’s safety. Three ominous shadows do continually appear, however, on the television screen whenever he isn’t looking, as a result of his ignoring the advice of a disturbed psychic who warns: "It is one thing to contact the dead, and it is another thing to meddle, and you are meddling!"
Aside from not being scary, the film lacks all logic. Supposedly the British hack is the one who manages to be the operator for the deceased, but Jonathan has the ability as well; even before he sets up the Batcave. On the night of his wife’s death he receives a cell phone call from her even though he has her phone and it’s been off ever since the tragedy. If this sounds like a spooky premise to you then perhaps “White Noise” is your thriller. I have since graduated from “Goosebumps” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”
At no time are we explicitly told that the spirits can actually, physically come back from the dead and wreak havoc on the real world. But at one point ghosts appear to be running through the streets during one of Jon’s rescue attempts after having been dispatched by his good-intending wife to a car crash -- of which graphic images (though always distorted) were shown to him on his computer monitor just minutes before it took place. So now the dead can see into the future? And they can relay images of the future to people in the present so they can intervene?
Too many questions for a film not worth putting any thought into. At best, “White Noise” is a Wednesday night rental. There are more than a few promising horror movies due out this year. I say pass on “White Noise” and wait for something better.
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