There’s a strange irony that as technologically advanced as we’ve gotten, lately our horror stories have been about antiquated, out of date technologies. First there was the horror of the mysterious video tape in The Ring. Now, with White Noise the bringer of fear is electrostatic - you know, the fuzz you used to see if your television wasn’t getting a clear signal. Soon a horror movie will be made about the nightmare of the cathode ray tube!
White Noise attempts to base itself on some quasi-fact theories of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), where people have claimed spirits of the dead have contacted them through the static or “white noise” of television or radio. Not willing to limit itself just to mediocre theories that may or may not be true, White Noise expands on the subject by allowing its true-believer to see stuff through the static as well.
That believer is Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton), who at the start of the film has everything - a beautiful wife, a grand home, a solid architectural job, and a son from his first wife, who he still gets along with beautifully (something almost more unrealistic than seeing spirits). As you would expect, something goes horribly wrong and Jonathan’s wife dies. Shortly thereafter Jonathan catches a stranger, Raymond Price (Ian McNeice) following him. When he challenges the stranger Price reveals to Jonathan the wonderful world of EVP, and that his deceased wife has been making contact through it. Soon Jonathan puts aside everything else in his life in an effort to make contact with his wife who doesn’t seem to want to say goodbye, but instead seems insistent in showing Jonathan people who are still alive and need help so he can assist them. Funny how it never occurs to either of them that if aid can be delivered through the static of a television, so can malice.
At its heart White Noise is actually a pretty good story. Sure the ideas are far fetched, but no more so than most other movies out there. The only difference between pure fantasy and Noise is that this film attempts to keep one foot in “realistic concepts”. It’s not even bad as a PG-13 horror movie, mostly because it doesn’t seem they were targeting the teenage crowd with a cast of older actors (as opposed to the teenage television stars we normally see in this type of film). The movie is certainly presented in a creepy enough manner that you start to forgive the cheap “gotcha” moments and give in to the eerie ambiance of the film.
What really plagues White Noise however is its inability to stick to its rules, or have its characters really pay any attention to what’s going on around them. Jonathan meets the strange Raymond Price, who dies mysteriously due to, what appears to be, his EVP investigations. Does this faze Jonathan one bit? Nope - he disregards what he’s seen and starts to set up his own equipment. I can understand the man being driven by the desire to see his deceased wife, but even the smallest skeptic would begin to second guess their motives when an innocent man winds up dead after trying to help them. Later on a psychic offers a warning to Jonathan, a warning that is never followed up on either by the character or the movie. It’s just another dead end in a movie full of potential that it never reaches.
Then there’s the entire concept of EVP itself. First the movie presents the “rules” about EVP - you can hear and sometimes see the dead as they try to make contact. Nothing is ever said about them giving you visions of events yet to occur. Then suddenly the rules change, and information is given about the new rules. However by the climax of the film we never find out why the rules change, or what might be the connection between everything, or even who the malevolent figures who haunt the television waves might even be.
Thankfully White Noise does avoid some horrid storytelling, even if it does make major mistakes in other areas. For instance, there is no potential romance between Jonathan and his partner in EVP, Sarah Tate (Deborah Kara Unger), which is good because that would completely remove the whole motive for Jonathan’s character contacting his wife. Even when Jonathan and Sarah see an event yet to come about Sarah, there is no attempt at the two adults becoming consenting adults. It’s a pitfall other movies might have fallen into, so it’s a good thing White Noise doesn’t. Unfortunately by the end Noise does offer the possibility of a sequel, so maybe this mistake can still be made somewhere down the line.
The whole idea of voices coming through static isn’t as frightening as you’d think, especially in this day and age, where most televisions remove static by giving you a solid blue screen and muting any sound. That doesn’t keep White Noise from becoming a bit creepy at times, to the extent that you might even want to keep a few lights on while you’re watching it. Just don’t pay much attention to the story’s details, because the writers certainly didn’t.
This disc review is based on material provided by Universal, but not on the actual DVD release. Items we usually consider in our rating like sound and picture quality, menus, and advertisements on the disc were not provided, and therefore not taken into consideration for this review. At the same time, some of the material may not make it into the final release (although since all of the press material has it listed, that’s probably unlikely).
The DVD release of White Noise takes an odd path and focuses more on the reality of the movie’s concepts than the movie itself. Unfortunately by doing so, the DVD becomes the movies biggest debunker, proving just how fictional the film is, and making a skeptic out of me towards even the base concepts of EVP.
The main featurette of the disc is “Hearing is Believing: Actual EVP Sessions” which follows a husband and wife team of experts as they go through two potentially haunted areas looking for voices from beyond. What’s interesting is that this featurette alone debunks most of the ideas in the movie. The concept of EVP is that the white noise of static acts as the voice box for the voices from beyond. They don’t appear physically, these experts haven’t seen strange figures in their televisions. These are voices who, at best, offer a few words and that’s it. The featurette shows the two as they go through the locations, and then analyze the recordings they made.
The other two featurettes also focus on EVP, showing a conference of EVP experts, and offering tips on how you can attempt to record your own EVP (kids, make sure you have your parents permission before contacting the other side). Both of these featurettes just added to my skepticism about EVP. All of the sound captured only sounded like something once you were told what the spirits were saying. If the sound clip was played without any help, I’d think it was just noise, but then the experts tell you, “oh no, that’s a voice saying ‘get out’” and then sure enough, you can hear the voice saying “get out”. Unfortunately with about twenty minutes of exposure through this DVD, most of the EVP crowd are coming across as crackpots, and that’s from someone who does believe in ghosts and supernatural occurrences.
The only extra actually focused on the movie are some deleted scenes, most of which offer extended versions of scenes in the movie - and by extended I mean they have one or two extra shots, that’s it. There are no real revelations offered through the deleted scenes even though there should be, since the movie leaves so many unanswered questions. Just a scene to explain what happened to Jonathan’s job or why he moved out of the house he shared with his wife, or what happened to the rest of Jonathan’s life they so carefully showed but then disregarded would be nice. Unfortunately most of the scenes are exactly what you saw in the movie minus any sort of scoring. The worst of these is the movie’s climax, which is just plain silly without a score, and offers no better a look at what you could barely understand the first time you saw the scene.
As a movie White Noise is passable, good for a cheap scare but nothing you should sit and ponder for very long. As a DVD I’d pass White Noise by, perhaps renting it for a weekend thrill but contentedly returning it to the rental place when the weekend was done with no regrets that I’d get anything further from the movie.
Reviewed By: Rafe Telsch