By Admin | January 8, 2005

“White Noise” opens with two scenes of such unabashed love and tenderness between Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) and his newly pregnant wife Anna (Chandra West) that you just know there’s no way this perfect tableau of connubial bliss can possibly last. Sure enough, Anna disappears without a trace on the way home from a night out with her girlfriend, leaving Jon understandably distraught. His grief is aggravated by the appearance of the mysterious Raymond Price (Ian McNeice), who claims that Anna has spoken to him from beyond the grave. Her body is finally discovered, several weeks later, and Jon starts the long mourning process. The fact that he’s starting to receive strange calls from Anna’s cell phone isn’t really helping him to cope with his loss, so he turns to Raymond in the hopes of making sense of everything and maybe, just maybe, hearing from his wife again.

Raymond claims he can help Jon, thanks to something called Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP. According to the premise of EVP, the dead can communicate with the living via detuned radios and televisions. Raymond plays Jon a static-heavy tape which he, in the interest of plot mechanics, immediately accepts as proof of Anna’s postmortem existence (I was more reminded of the good old days, when parents’ groups spent hours listening to heavy metal albums backwards in the hopes of hearing secret Satanic messages). Before you can say “hoax,” Jon has taken a leave of absence from his architecture job, outfitted his pad with the latest in computer and video editing equipment, and has made hunting for messages from Anna his full-time gig.

If you’ve seen the previews, you know that Anna isn’t the only one looking to reach out to the other side. Unsurprisingly, some dead people don’t seem to be too happy to be among the non-living, and it also appears that Anna is showing Jon events in the near future, ostensibly so he can do something to alter the outcome. All this steers us towards a largely incomprehensible ending (involving a missing woman and a sinister trio of silhouetted ghosts) that feels rushed and somehow incomplete.

“White Noise” isn’t very effective as a thriller, mostly because it relies far too much on such gags as the “Suddenly Turned On Appliance” and the “Mirror Appear,” where our hero is menaced by something that only shows up while he’s not paying attention in the bathroom. Too much time is also spent on Jon’s descent into obsession with EVP, while the actual suspenseful moments are spaced too far apart to adequately construct any sense of dread.

The character of Jon is thinly written, unfortunately, and the movie’s short running time makes watching him transform from happy husband to grieving widower to avenger of evil in a scant 90 minutes somewhat aggravating. Keaton, looking hale (if substantially more craggy), does what he can and turns in a decent performance, as does Deborah Kara Unger as his partner in sleuthing. It’s just a pity writer Niall Johnson couldn’t come up with something more interesting for them to do but watch TV and fall off of things.

As for EVP itself…I’m not the one to say whether or not the dead are capable of using electronics to talk to the living. Hell, 84% of Americans (according to a 2000 Newsweek poll) believe in the existence of a benevolent sky fairy who performs miracles, so it’s entirely possible a sizable chunk of you out there hear something other than hissing when you mistune your radio. I don’t care either way, except to say that it doesn’t work very well as a horror device. The concept of the dead speaking to us through our TVs sounds kind of creepy at first, except that you can just turn the damn thing off when things start getting out of hand. It’s a nice gimmick, but will probably only be frightening to those misguided fools who think the “They’re here!” scene in “Poltergeist” was scarier than that f*****g clown under the bed.

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