© 2005 Ray Wong
"Can the dead communicate with the living?" It's an age-old question everyone from spiritual leaders to common men have tried to answer. WHITE NOISE takes a look at one of these media -- EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) -- while trying to scare us at the same time.
Jonathan Rivers (Keaton) is a successful architect with a best-selling author wife, Anna (West). When Anna goes missing by the river, Jonathan suffers from denial. One day, a man named Raymond Price (McNeice) comes to him and tells him that Anna is dead, and she has been trying to contact Jonathan. Days later, Anna’s body is recovered. Apparently she died in a freak accident.
Six months later, Jonathan and his son Mike (Elia) move out of their house into a posh condo and try to start over again. When Jonathan starts to receive strange phone calls, he suspects that maybe his late wife is trying to contact him. He pays a visit to Price, who shows him the recordings he has of Anna. Soon Jonathan becomes obsessed with EVP himself and starts to track and record white noises in the hopes of reaching Anna. When Price dies mysteriously, the story takes a sinister turn as Jonathan begins to be surrounded by deaths.
Keaton (FIRST DAUGHTER) desperately needs a hit to revive his career since the 1998 flop JACK FROST. While he's effective as the grieving husband, his performance just seems to lack weight or urgency. Most of the time, he simply paces around, going from one place to another, or stares blankly into a TV monitor. Perhaps it's unfair to blame it on Keaton -- his character is too introspective and reactive to begin with. One has to try hard to find a reason to care about him (which is a bad thing, considering he just lost a wife and an unborn child). Unger (A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG) has a better but minor role as fellow widow, Sarah. Her presence adds needed urgency and warmth to the film.
West (MISTER STERLING) has a brief role as the effervescent Anna, though her "presence" is felt throughout the film. Rounding out the cast is veteran actor McNeice (BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON) as Price, newcomer Nicholas Elia as Jonathan's son, and Mike Dopud (WALKING TALL) as Detective Smits. They all give respectful performances.
WHITE NOISE is director Sax's (TV's WIDOWS) first feature film. While his technical skills are adequate, he depends too much on standard horror/supernatural thrill shots to shock and startle the audience. Most of these flashes and jumps and booms are unnecessary and they feel cheap. On the other hand, the general pace of the entire movie is slow. There are many lingering and repetitive shots of Keaton's character moping around or sitting silently or staring blankly. After a while, we can’t help but lament: "We get the point. Move on already."
Writer Johnson (THE BIG SWAP) has created a story that is a jigsaw puzzle of various recognizable ghost or supernatural films: FREQUENCY, DRAGONFLY, and GHOST, to name a few. The story starts out too slowly, lingering on Jonathan's grief when it doesn't show enough of him and Anna to make us care. The emotions are manipulative and superficial. Midway through the film, however, the pace starts to pick up when the story takes a sinister turn. One of the problems is that, despite the time and effort spent on Jonathan’s grieving and obsession, little is spent on actual character development. The characters in this film are too cardboard and bland.
In addition, once the plot makes its interesting turn, it becomes predictable. The script tries too hard to clue in the audience. Many plot elements are left unexplained -- they create suspense of horror that is hardly delivered or satisfied. The final twist, while it makes sense, seems tagged on. The film tries to tug at our heartstrings at the end, but the result is only slightly affecting.
With so many great ghost stories out there, this story simply feels a bit of an unnecessary noise.
Stars: Michael Keaton, Chandra West, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice, Sarah Strange, Nicholas Elia
Director: Geoffrey Sax
Writer: Niall Johnson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, language and disturbing images
Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total Score – 6.1 of 10