Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead
General Audience: C+
Widowed architect has never-ending séance with his dead wife. Too complicated and slow for anyone under 15. No sex or nudity. Violence tame by television standards.
Family Audience: C+
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and language. Minority Report meets Ghost. The images are disturbing because they’re hard to see. Not family fare.
White Noise is that awful static we hear between radio stations as we turn the dial. However, according to the producers of this film, it is also a medium the dead are using to get hold of you. I never knew this. So, on the drive home from the movie, I listened to static on my radio for 20 minutes hoping to hear an audible message from the other side. Through the sea of static I did hear a very faint, crackly voice in Spanish. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish, so I’ll never know if it was a sales pitch for new cars or an important message for someone’s loved one.
Radios, I learned, are not the only devices used by the deceased to talk to us. DVD recorders, hand-held voice recorders, cell phones and even iPod’s are good candidates. Here’s why: EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), the premise of White Noise, is the process through which the dead communicate with the living through household recording devices. Since all of the above devices “record,” each has the potential to pick up messages from individuals who have “crossed over” such as Elvis or possibly your great grandfather.
Whether or not you believe in the premise of a film is not as important as the strength of the film’s characters and a solid story. Folks will suspend disbelief for a good story and great acting.
The movie Ghost (starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore) is engrossing and entertaining because the characters and their relationships are well developed and the underlying “yearning for justice” theme delivers a one-two punch. Other examples of supernatural fun include the X-Files and The Ring. Sadly, White Noise, which starts out as a similar promising sci-fi adventure, fails to pump up the volume.
Successful architect Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) is married to a beautiful and talented writer named Anna (Chandra West) when she suddenly and predictably dies in an automobile accident.
Then, a mysterious man (Ian McNeice) follows Jonathan to work and informs him he has received messages from his wife via a recording device. At first Jonathan is skeptical, but soon becomes convinced EVP is real and becomes obsessed with trying to contact his dead wife. While listening and staring incessantly at a snowy television monitor with eerie images popping in and out, Jonathan picks up supernatural messages from his wife asking him to take action to prevent the tragic deaths of perfect strangers.
Much like a “pre-cog” in the film Minority Report, Anna provides images to Jonathan of crimes or deaths that have not yet occurred. Jonathan uses this information to change fate. However, doing so causes him to cross the path of some nasty spirits. It sounds better than it plays out.
For starters, we have little emotional investment in most of the characters. Anna dies before we get to know her and, based on Keaton’s perpetual poker face, there’s no evidence he’s distraught over her passing over to the other side.
Secondly, Jonathan is a perfect stranger to his son, lacking normal parental warmth and affection.
Jonathan’s son, likewise, is a total blank. Where’s Haley Joel Osment (Sixth Sense) when you need him? Finally, there are some unexplained evil apparitions that muddle this story, which goes nowhere slowly.
One redeeming performance in White Noise comes from Deborah Unger. She plays an EVP follower who befriends Keaton and assists him in his quest to communicate with the dead. Unger’s haunting eyes and intense demeanor are a nice fit for playing the role of a medium.To enter the Twilight Zone and reach the Outer Limits of this pseudo-science phenomenon, Unger just needed a man with emotion and a better script to resurrect this tale from the crypt.