|White Noise (2005)
Starring: Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Chandra West, Ian McNiece
Director: Geoffrey Sax
Someone should check Niall Johnson’s house for copies of the 1986 horror movie “Witchboard” and Dean Koontz’ novel “The Face.” His script for “White Noise” contains an alarming number of elements from both works, namely the plot of the former and a specific detail of the latter. The movie’s subject matter deals with Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), which examines the messages that dearly departed loved ones leave after they’ve passed on. It’s certainly ripe with potential for a thrilling ghost story. But “White Noise” isn’t it, by a long shot.
Michael Keaton stars as Jonathan Rivers, an architect who loses his wife Anna (Chandra West) in a freak accident. Soon after, Jonathan notices that he is being followed by a middle-aged man, and confronts him. The man, Raymond (Ian McNiece), says that he’s been receiving messages from Anna in the hi-tech recording equipment he uses to “talk” with the dead. Jonathan becomes obsessed with the possibility of talking to his wife, and soon buys recording gear of his own.
Sure enough, Jonathan gets fleeting messages from Anna, as well as messages from other people who have crossed over. The trouble begins when Raymond is found dead, and Jonathan and Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), another EVP enthusiast, discover disturbing patterns between the dead people and how they met their maker.
The comparisons to “Witchboard” are shocking. Both movies involve someone messing with the supernatural in ways that they do not understand. Both are lulled in by the promise of rewards, either material (Tawny Kitaen finds her missing ring thanks to the demon that ultimately possesses her) or spiritual (Jonathan just wants to help people heal). Both watch everyone around them die one by one. The bit from “The Face” also involves communicating with the dead, and intercepting transmissions from unwelcome visitors. The movie’s climax steals from another source entirely, but to disclose the source would be revealing too much.
God love Michael Keaton, though. He is clearly doing the best he can, given the circumstances. There are times where you can tell that an actor knows that they’re slumming – Hugh Jackman in “Van Helsing,” for example – but Keaton is a pro, even though he’s surrounded by amateurs. Sax’s direction isn’t any better than Johnson’s script, telegraphing every possible fright so that the audience knows exactly when to expect it. There are also far too many loose ends, like Raymond’s death, that come and go without explanation.
“White Noise” feels like a movie that human hands never touched, as if machines compiled the story and plot devices from some evil bad movie database (though “Witchboard” is actually a decent horror movie), and assembled their own Franken-movie. Had the machines been set to ‘ghost story’ instead of ‘horror story,’ we may have had something here. Either way, Keaton should still fire his agent.