White Noise

One-dead-one-alive dynamic crime-fighting duo
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2005
Director: 
Geoffery Sax
Starring: 
Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice, Chandra West
The Setup: 
Guy gets obsessed with communicating with his dead wife through electronic equipment.
Discussion: 

I never really wanted to see this movie. It looked like crap. But over time it began to seem like it might be silly fun and mockable for how very dumb it could quite potentially be, and plus I liked/hated movies I see as similar, Dragonfly and The Mothman Prophecies, all of which are about men unable to let go of their grief over their dead wives, and drifting into the supernatural over the promise of contact with them. It also seems to be a particularly male phenomenon--are there movies about women unable to give up the memory of their dead husbands? Not that I can think of. Anyway, I was surprised to be pretty much engaged with this thing throughout, and I have to hand it to director Geoffery Sax that it was pretty much entirely his direction that kept this solidly entertaining, despite the fact that the story is extremely thin and in retrospect, almost nothing really happens.

We open with a quote that we may someday have machines that allow us to communicate with the dead, and then a big ominous THUD music sting as we learn that the quote is from Thomas Edison! Holy shit, so it MUST be true! I mean it's not as if Snoop Dog or Matthew McConaughey said it, right? We then have a definition of EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomena, which is where the dead communicate with us through radios and TVs tuned to static. Then we have a happy Michael Keaton as John Rivers saying goodbye to his wife Anna, who is a bestselling novelist. He's a respected architect who, we soon learn, never actually has to go to work. There's also a kid from a first marriage that serves no narrative purpose, making me wonder why he's here at all. But whatever. I'm sure you realize that Anna is a goner. The movie shows us John waiting up for her as she just never arrives, then finally the next morning there's an item on the news that her car was found by the river, but no trace of her. Which is a kind of welcome variation on the theme, since we know she'll end up dead, anyway. Sure enough, they eventually find her body a ways downriver by this plant, but not before this dude Raymond Price shows up and says that Anna has been trying to communicate with John through him.

Then--six months later! John moves from his massively upscale house into a massively upscale apartment. One night he gets a call from Anna's cell--although she's dead! Obviously you and I would initially assume it's one of Rupert Murdoch's papers trying to stir up a story, but she also leaves a message on his answering machine, but sadly it's a play-one-time-only, this message will self-destruct kind of thing. So he goes to see Raymond Price. There he meets Kara Deborah Ungar as Sarah Tate, who has just gotten a word from her dead fiancé or something. Kara Deborah is a little bit in the Radha Mitchell vein as she tends to only appear in lower-grade junk like this, but she also appears in some rather cool stuff (Cronenberg's Crash) and has the sense (or the poor career luck) to keep herself somewhat out of sight.

Anyway, here's the procedure with EVP: you record static, and static is all you hear. But when you play the recording back, sometimes you find you picked up spirit voices or pictures, if using a video tape. Never mind that this implies some sort of camera and framing (otherwise why wouldn't the tape pick up a finger or ankle?), but that's the deal. Sounds FUCKING TEDIOUS to me, sitting and listening to all that static, but I guess that's why I don't do it. Anyway, John hears Anna on the tape, and finds out all he has to do is make his own recordings and he'll hear her, too. Then before he leaves he hears these big mean voices on the tape, and we see (but he doesn't) these three shadowy figures on the TV screen. That's right, the bad spirit is BROS [lower right].

Then he goes home and buys his own EVP kit, and tries it for a while, and finally gets some Anna words. She never says much of anything interesting. It hardly seems worth it. It would be funny for him to shout out toward the great beyond: "Call back when you have something to SAY, 'cause I've got this crossword puzzle here." Eventually we also see glimpses (that John is always turned away during) of BROS on John's TV. Then Raymond calls and invites John over, but when he gets there the whole place has been ransacked and Raymond has been killed somehow. More glimpses of BROS. Also, John's been hanging out a lot with Sarah (that's Kara) and by now even the most unobservant of us will be saying "So, uh, I guess this guy doesn't work anymore?"

SPOILERS > > >
So John goes to see this psychic and she is batting 100 on knowing stuff about his life, but then she suddenly perceives that he's using EVP and that is like, SUPER dangerous. She tells him that she studied for years to gain the trust of her spirit guide and that there are a lot of bad spirits who want to touch you inappropriately out there, and she warns him he's in big trouble. He tells her she's just jealous that she studied for years just to get spirits to talk to her, and they're yakking to him after just a few tries (actually he doesn't), but he does leave with her screaming warnings in his ear. Then he goes to visit a woman with a message from her Grandma, but is curious when he finds Grandma's only been a stone-cold lifeless cadaver for two days, while the message he got was a week old! Something doesn't add up!

Then he goes out one night to a location he got an impression of from Anna (we see the shadows of BROS skulking away), and ends up saving a baby from a car accident, which makes him feel like he and Anna are going to be a kind of one-dead-one-alive dynamic crime-fighting duo, with him receiving the jump on crime from the shadowy netherworld. Actually, the fact that that concept has not been turned into a TV series yet (or maybe it has?) is kind of incredible. I have to say there is a reasonably nice effect in here where he goes out to this remote road, where nothing is happening, then suddenly one of the telephone poles sparks, and eventually we realize that a car has hit one of the poles down the line... it's just a nice, slow, effective reveal. Anyway, now John is fully convinced that Anna is directing him to save the living. Now cough up tomorrow's winning lottery numbers, Anna! If you're so fucking worried about the living.

John and Sarah go to the funeral of the baby's mother, and John approaches the father, who tells him he doesn't want any involvement with that spirit stuff, implying that the dead woman was into it, too. After a little investigation they discover that everyone who has died was seeing Raymond Price, meaning they got involved with EVP and THEN they died. Meanwhile John is constantly hearing Anna say "Go! Go now!" which he interprets as her exhorting him to go save someone, while we're beginning to suspect that she's telling him to get to Art Van during their 48-hour sale. Or to stop messing with EVP. Then he and Sarah are chillin' (the movie thankfully never develops a romance between them, although I suspect it lies on the cutting room floor) when they clearly see Sarah on one of John's tapes!

John stays the night with her, leaving for just a sec to visit the bathroom. Well, in that second BROS come, and they inspire Sarah to jump off her balcony. She lives. Then John goes home and finds his house ransacked. Then Anna shows him the location where they found her body, and John goes there. He goes in the old big abandoned factory and finds--an EVP listening station! There's also a woman tied to a chair, some construction worker dude with a hot stache, and BROS on the upper balcony. Oh, Anna's spirit is lurking around, too. I think it would be funny if Anna's spirit became so commonplace John got totally bored with her and just wanted her to piss off so he could hook up with some new ladies. Anyway, are you ready for the shocking reveal? I do hope so.

It would seem that BROS are like spiritual bullies, and they ganged up on the hot-stache construction dude and MADE him go around killing people who messed with EVP! Why they then targeted Anna, who was never into it, is left conspicuously unexplained. So he became kind of their emissary on the Earthly plane, doing their bidding. Then John gets menaced by BROS and ends up fighting with them directly (actually, now that I think about it, they've been pretty effective all on their own), and falls to his death. Then the cop shows up a second later (let's not go into it), but alas, John is dead, and now he and Anna are in the big luxury condo in the sky. We then have a title informing us that 1 out of 12 EVP messages is overtly threatening, while 6 out of 12 are marketing messages, and then we have--a very 90s sensitive guitar-pop hit! There truly is no human emotion that can't be summed up with a pop song.
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For all its silliness, I have to say I found it quite involving and watchable (there was no fast-forwarding, for instance), which is saying something, especially when you consider that this thing really doesn't have much of a story. John discovers EVP, listens to a lot of static (not the most cinematically exciting pursuit), gets to know Sarah, thinks he's a spiritually-guided crime-fighter for a while, then everything is revealed in the last ten minutes. It all proceeds rather slowly, with time to develop atmosphere and character, with slightly menacing hints dropped here and there, and yet somehow it all remains fairly compelling. So I have to hand it to director Geoffery Sax for his ability to enliven material that is intrinsically fairly dull and the tiniest bit stupid. I can now understand why this became a bit of a sleeper hit and spawned direct-to-DVD sequels.

Not that much else to say. I was expecting to laugh at it all the way through (and if you take a step back, there is plenty to be amused by), and as I said I could never really get the reason anyone would want to see this movie, but you know, it convinced me. So, maybe not quite as good as The Mothman Prophecies, but definitely better than Dragonfly. Which is what you really wanted to know.

Should you watch it: 

It might not seem like it, but you actually could do worse.