White Noise (2005)

Starring: Michael Keaton, Ian McNeice, Chandra West, Deborah Kara Unger

Directed by: Geoffrey Sax

Rating: 1 2 3

Michael Keaton as Jonathan Rivers in White Noise

Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) is the science of taping dead people. Wanna give it a go? Simply tune out your radio so it creates static and stick your tape recorder on. Listen back to the recording and you should hear voices. Voices of the dead, trying to communicate from the other side. Or then again, you might hear a lot of hissing/your next door neighbour watching videoed episodes of The Midsomer Murders at three o'clock in the morning (it happens...).

Nobody knows exactly what causes these spectral recordings. Are they really spirits, angelic or demonic? Are they aliens, trying to phone home? Has the recording picked up signals from other radio transmissions? Or do we simply hear what we want to hear? Who knows, but I'll tell you one thing for free: I wouldn't leave my tape recorder running in an empty room for all the tea in China. No siree, if the dead are trying to speak to me, I'd really rather not know about it thank you very much.

Jonathon misses the three scary shadows... again...

Not so White Noise's Jonathan Rivers' (Michael Keaton, looking really rather wrinkly now, bless him). When his wife Anna dies in a mysterious accident, he is approached by portly EVP expert Raymond Price (Ian McNeice), who claims to have received a message from Anna from the other side. Naturally, Jonathan dismisses him as a crackpot. But when Anna tries to call him on his mobile (nice one) he decides that there might be more to this EVP thing than meets the eye. Next thing he's turned his slick modern apartment into white noise central, with a whole galaxy of high tech equipment set to record the messages from beyond the grave. And, as Raymond tries to warn him, not all these messages are nice.

Now, anyone who's seen Poltergeist knows that white noise on your telly screen is bad news, but Jonathan evidently missed that one - just as he keeps missing the three sinister black shadows that sweep across the screen every time something scary's about to happen. Doh - behind you! Even when poor Raymond turns up dead, Jonathan isn't deterred, especially when he realises that the voices he is picking up are coming from people who aren't actually dead yet.

Ian McNeice as Raymond with Michael Keaton in White Noise

Okay, so even given the freaky and fascinating subject matter, the plot of White Noise is hardly groundbreaking. A cross between Ghost, M Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and an episode of Missing (sorry, Without A Trace), it's fairly pedestrian in its progress towards what is admittedly an unexpected conclusion. What I think is interesting is the way it shows Michael Keaton's character inexorably losing his grip on reality as his obsession with EVP escalates. Gradually, everything that was important and meaningful in his life, including his career and his young son, are forgotten as he retreats into a dimly lit world of flickering video screens, zigzagging sound files, black coffee and insomnia.

So whilst at the same time generating an enormous interest in EVP (the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomenon can barely cope with the increased traffic to their website since the film was released) White Noise is at the same time sending out a stark warning: dealing with the dead is dangerous. Even if you aren't going to be haunted by three evil spirits who want to destroy you (as you would be) there is always the danger of spending so much time with the dead that you forget how to live.

A supernatural thriller rather than a horror movie, White Noise does its best to keep us on the edge of our seats with shocks aplenty, but you can't help thinking that, given the subject matter, they could have made a much more frightening film out of it. Oh well, perhaps this is just the first of an onslaught of EVP movies. And perhaps one of them will actually be scary. Go on Sam Raimi, you know you want to.

Wanna find out more? Read the cases for and against EVP here.

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