Remember in Poltergeist when the little blonde girl was talking to the television broadcasting only that snowy nothingness they used to show when there was nothing on the air back in the days before 24/7 programming? And then she turned to her mother and said in her sweet little-girl voice, “They’re here!” Well, there was more deliciously creepy terror in that one moment than in all of “White Noise,” a barkingly dumb would-be thriller about the dead communicating with the living through…appliances.
Michael Keaton plays Jonathan Rivers, blissfully married to such a completely beautiful and perfect and loving (and newly pregnant) woman (Chandra West) that you know she’ll be toast within fifteen minutes after we meet her. Sure enough, after a half-heard “I love you” as she drives away and an incomplete voicemail, she disappears. Her body is found sometime later and it appears that after a car crash, she was severely wounded and unable to save herself after falling into the river.
Jonathan notices that a man has been following him. The man says he has been receiving messages from Jonathan’s wife. At first, Jonathan does not believe him, but then, well it would be a pretty short movie if he was not convinced quickly so that the real story can get going — about how he starts to get messages from people who aren’t actually dead yet and how all of this meddling with powers he does not understand is deeply upsetting to, well, the powers he does not understand.
Okay, so the story is not the point. This is all about the thrill ride. The problem is that it’s just not that thrilling.
Every would-be surprise is telegraphed in advance with the most venerable and uninspired of movie cliches, everything that has been done to, um, death over and over and over and then successfully parodied and ridiculed to death in movies from Scream to Scary Movie.
The camera closes in tight on someone, so we know something is happening just outside the frame. The music builds and we know something bad is about to happen. Someone promises not to leave and then he does and…something bad happens. And of course the secret hideout is all drippy exposed beams and sputtering lights. Yawn.
This isn’t an especially bad movie. It just isn’t an especially good one. Keaton’s underwritten part doesn’t give him much to do beyond barking at the television and looking bereft, but West makes a lovely impression in her brief role as his late wife. She is supposed to be a writer whose latest book is called “The Eternal Wait.” As I checked my watch to see how much longer the movie was going to go on, I felt that could have been the title of the movie.
Parents should know that the movie is a thriller with an overall theme that may be disturbing to some family members. There are brief grisly images and references to violence and some scary (but well within PG-13-range) surprises. A character attempts suicide and others are killed, including one who is shot. There is brief strong language and brief drinking. The movie contains a reference to “an earthquake in India” that may be upsetting due to current events. And according to this movie, only white, middle class people communicate with each other after death.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other ghost stories like Ghost, The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist. Dragonfly and The Mothman Prophecies have similar themes but are not as effective. They might also want to learn more about EVP.