Universal // 2005 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // February 2nd, 2008
The dead are trying to get a hold of you.
"Electronic Voice Phenomenon is the recording of paranormal voices, on all sorts of recording media, that should not be there." -- Lisa Butler, co-Director, AA-EVP
Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton, Batman) has the idyllic life: a thriving career in architectural design, a lovely wife, Anna (Chandra West, The Perfect Son), and an adoring young son from a former yet amicably terminated marriage. Without warning, though, Anna has gone missing, an apparent victim of an auto-related accident. While Jonathan holds out all hope that Anna will be found alive and well, he ultimately learns that she has died, her body found in a local waterway, and is lost to him forever. Unannounced, Raymond Price (Ian McNeice, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) approaches Jonathan and shares that he's been receiving paranormal messages from Anna, she who is desperately trying to reach Jonathan from beyond. With this, Jonathan learns about the vastly uncharted realm of E.V.P. and hears an actual recording of Anna's voice within the white noise -- the presumed empty space -- of an audio recording. Jonathan also meets Sarah Tate (Debra Kara Unger, Thirteen) who is likewise grieving after the loss of her fiancée and has found that Price has recorded messages from the dead beau as well. But meddling in the realm of the undead is not for amateurs as all three soon learn when three destructive spirits begin lashing out at the Earth-bound paranormal dabblers. Jonathan soon discovers that he has become a conduit for E.V.P. contact himself and that his own life can be in danger as a result of his efforts to re-connect with his departed spouse.
It sounds quite chilling and theatrical trailers and TV spots effectively advertised the frightening realm to be unleashed in White Noise will chill you, too. Unfortunately, like too many well-constructed ad campaigns, the best parts of the film have already been revealed, the feature itself having little else to offer to those brave enough to experience the film's remaining 93 minutes. Bravery isn't really required, though; it's patience and a dose of forgiveness you'll need. Perhaps this is a sort of poetic justice, though, since, as this disc's extra features show, many people do believe in the E.V.P. phenomenon; to exploit their hopeful efforts of reconnecting with passed loved ones for the sake of a spook show would seem insensitive, even profane. Perhaps, but the film has been marketed as a scare-flick and, on that level, it fails. It doesn't fail miserably, mind you; it just never delivers what its ad campaign promises.
It's not that White Noise lacks a spooky atmosphere -- as a matter of fact, it has plenty of that. It's not that the film is short on talent -- Keaton, McNeice, and Unger turn out very capable performances. What it lacks, though, is conviction to its intentions to scare the pants off its viewers. It establishes a very uncomfortable setting where wispy sounds and voices swirl around you and extreme camera close-ups focused on the titular white noise of blank videotape reveal ghostly apparitions with jarring suddenness. Yes, it has those parts down but it fails to provide a payoff to its buildup. Early on you'll learn there will be a standoff that takes place, between this world and the next, and you'll squirm as you begin to imagine how such a confrontation will transpire. When it does go down, though, you'll simply draw up one corner of your mouth, raise an unimpressed eyebrow, and shrug your shoulders as the voice inside your head concedes, "oh, I guess that's it then." The credits roll, the lights go up, and you walk away a few dollars -- or a couple of hours -- poorer for your investment.
Maybe White Noise suffers from having an attentive conscience, one that wags a finger to warn against the exploitation of the real E.V.P.-ers, previously mentioned. Kudos for that, you might say, but you were promised a ghostly good time and most of you will leave disappointed. Again, it's not a bad picture and, if repositioned as a sort of latter-day Night Gallery episode, it could be admired for its execution. But, in this context, it simply doesn't fully commit itself to the advertised offering.
Originally released on DVD in May 2005, White Noise is back for another appeal, this time enhanced in the HD DVD format. Format backer Universal has delivered this red-boxed rendition to deliver an improved experience via a 1080p / VC-1 encoded transfer. Immediately, the image quality is impressive, sometimes bordering on breathtaking for its excellent detail and steady delivery. The source material is virtually spotless, granting an arguably life-like quality to the film throughout. There is light grain visible on occasion but this works to establish a film-like look in a way that doesn't distract from the viewing experience. As much of the picture takes place in dark settings, you'll be happy to find black levels are properly managed and shadow detail is preserved without undesirable black crush. The color palette is muted by original design so this one won't aggressively "pop" out of your monitor. Nevertheless, this is a definite upgrade over the previous DVD rendition.
On the audio side, the onboard Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix adds a deeper dimensionality when compared to the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 track. There's much better imaging across the channels here, made more prominent thanks to the noticeably enlarged soundstage. Discrete effects will bounce and swirl around you, just as you'd expect from a film of this type. Unfortunately, the score seems to be emphasized a bit too much at times and, subsequently, some of the front-centered dialog loses clarity from time to time.
Extras on this disc are the same as were released on the previous DVD. That said, you're first treated to an audio commentary that joins Director Geoffrey Sax and actor Michael Keaton (via satellite link between London and Hollywood) for a scene-specific discussion of the picture. Sax makes for a good moderator, ensuring the dialog never lags while Keaton is very generous in his offering of insight and anecdotes. As for the subsequent featurettes, here's where you'll be led astray from the feature production and, instead, lured into the world of E.V.P. Three featurettes focus upon the phenomenon: Making Contact: E.V.P. Experts (8 minutes), Recording the Afterlife at Home (4 minutes), and Hearing is Believing: Actual E.V.P. Sessions (15 minutes). If you're the sort who likes to watch History Channel haunt-fests and perhaps played a game or two of Mary Worth when you were a child, you might find these segments of interest. Back to the film, though, there is a collection of five deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Sax), three rather inconsequential yet two that displayed more graphic elements cut to achieve the PG-13 rating.
As mentioned, White Noise does reasonably well to establish an other-worldly atmosphere, one that infiltrates the technology of our current culture (well, the videotape looks rather outdated) and this may work to give a few shivers to the more sensitive filmgoers among us. If you're a hardened genre buff, however, you'll be left wanting more.
Also, there are far too many product placements, the majority coming from Sony, including VCRs, headphones, and the failed MiniDisc format (snicker).
And, as noted, two of the deleted scenes indicate the potential of the original production right down to the material that was captured in the camera. It's a loss to filmgoers that White Noise, like too many other genre entries, are rendered harmless and less harrowing in deference for the demographically friendly PG-13 brand. In this instance, an "unrated" release, restored with all the cut elements, might have been a better choice for this second home video bow.
Although you certainly could do worse, White Noise isn't one of the better genre pictures around. A proper nod goes to Universal for delivering such a top notch transfer, a bit of forgiveness is given for an occasionally inconsistent yet generally improved audio mix, and a shake of the head is all that can be offered for a missed opportunity to scare us silly. There's no crime in under-achieving in this manner but the court would assert that a filmmaker like Sax and a studio like Universal should go for broke the next time they entertain the apparitions of those who occupy the ethereal plane.
Not guilty but not very impressive, either. Court adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio commentary
* "Making Contact: E.V.P. Experts"
* "Recording the Afterlife at Home"
* "Hearing is Believing: Actual E.V.P. Sessions"
* Deleted scenes
* American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena