'White Noise' lacks spirit

The dead no longer speak through such antiquated items as a Ouija board.


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Michael Keaton plays Jonathan Rivers, whose wife, Anna, mysteriously disappears in "White Noise." Rivers gets involved with practitioners of electronic voice phenomenon, the theory that the dead can communicate with the living through modern technology.

Nowadays, the spirits from beyond are traveling more high-tech paths, using HDTVs, cell phones and computers.

At least that's the idea behind "White Noise," a sullen horror-mystery flick that explores the world of electronic voice phenomenon. Known to its practitioners as EVP, the theory maintains that the deceased can use modern devices to communicate with the living. Thus, the voice heard over a staticky phone line or the image on a fuzzy television set might be dear departed Aunt Gladys. Or maybe it's just reruns of "Bewitched" emanating from a low-watt station in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

In "White Noise," Michael Keaton gets to wrestle with this concept. He plays Jonathan Rivers, a successful architect whose second wife, Anna (Chandra West), is an "internationally renowned novelist." On the eve of finding out she's pregnant, Anna disappears.


White Noise **


Michael Keaton plays an architect whose wife dies and apparently tries to contact him from beyond the grave in this sullen horror-mystery that explores the world of electronic voice phenomena (EVP). Speaking of grave, this is one "serious" movie, with lots of scenes involving characters grieving and attending funerals.

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Goodbye EPT, hello EVP.

Jonathan is visited by Raymond (Ian McNeice), a portly stranger who claims, "I've been receiving signs from the other side." Armed with enough audio/video gear to furnish a Best Buy, Raymond reveals that Anna is dead and desperately trying to contact her husband.

Teaming with a young widow (Deborah Kara Unger) who is also dabbling with ghostly conversations, the three try to decipher the pattern of correspondence with those from beyond the grave.

Speaking of grave, "White Noise" explores its reasonably unsettling premise without a smidgen of humor. This is one serious film, with lots of scenes involving characters grieving and attending funerals. One assumes a gifted comedian like Keaton might be able to inject a little spunkiness into the proceedings (just look what the kooky Johnny Depp did for "Secret Window"), but Keaton approaches the role like "Death of a Salesman."


Special to the Journal-World

Michael Keaton, foreground, and Deborah Kara Unger star in the paranormal thriller, "White Noise."

As with a lot of recent horror movies whose plots depend on solving a mystery ("The Grudge," "Gothika" and "The Village"), the tale forfeits suspense when the answers start to unfold. The script (by Niall Johnson) does keep the narrative moving in new directions. It's similar to "What Lies Beneath" in that the REAL story doesn't start to emerge until well past the midway point.

However, there's the sense "White Noise" might have been a whole lot more fun for the sound effects crew than the actors. This movie is a real collage of distorted noises -- buzzing, screeching, moaning, crackling. Sometimes these elements are genuinely effective (as with several moments when a TV's "snow" pattern unscrambles to reveal eerie messages), other times they seem like cheap parlor tricks inserted to recapture the audience's waning attention.

"White Noise" never degenerates into a total laugher. A consistent tone is maintained throughout the picture. There's just not much of interest aside from the premise to make this film significant in any respect.

Considering it is technically the first movie to be released in 2005, it will inevitably fade from one's memory by year's end like so much static.


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