Retro Review: White Noise (2005)

A concept that I’ve mentioned here before is the concept of growing up and seeing all of these movies claimed as “the most terrifying movie ever made”. When you’re a kid, you believe that shit, so I was convinced at a young age that all of these dumb movies were horror classics. One of these films that was touted as “The most terrifying film in theaters” was 2005’s White Noise. I remember everyone freaking out about how chilling of a film it was, definitely a financial success during its theatrical run. It’s a film that has always been on my list, just sitting there at the top, but tonight was the night that I finally watched it. Did it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.

After the death of his wife, Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) delves into the world of EVP to talk to her from beyond the grave. After she keeps trying to contact Jon, he teams up with another widower (Deborah Kara Unger) to find out the secret meaning behind the messages. The duo also learn that EVP may help them cope with their lost loved ones, but it may also lead down a far more sinister path.

This seems like such a weird movie for Michael Keaton to be in, but I’m so happy that he is. Don’t get me wrong, the cast as a whole is fine. All of the cast members do a fine job in their supporting roles, but wow does Keaton nail his performance. Michael Keaton is one of those actors that can make anything good, he can chew up the scenery with even the thinnest of characters and with this film in particular, he’s given another flat character but he injects so much of that Michael Keaton personality that you love watching it just to watch him act. He knows how to capture you with the most subtle of facial expressions and line delivery. There are certain scenes that are supposed to be emotional for the character, whether it has to be intense or somber, Keaton elevates every single one of those emotional beats to deliver something that is far superior to what’s written on the page. This is one of those roles that reminds you of why you love Michael Keaton.

Someone else who I want to give props to is director Geoffrey Sax, who isn’t exactly someone with a glowing resume. He’s done mainly random TV stuff, but his second biggest thing behind White Noise is Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. Don’t let Alex Rider fool you, Sax is actually a great visual director and this film is evidence of that. He tries to make the most out of a film that’s basically Michael Keaton looking at monitors for 90-minutes, which I really admire. He manages to take a film with pretty bland scenery and make it look great, with nice camera movement and even some randomly beautiful shots. There were random shots throughout that just had me saying “Wow, that was really well set up” or “Wow, that’s such an interesting angle”. He doesn’t do huge tricks or anything, but he’s able to capture some amazing shots. He’s able to move the camera around his environment in really effective, interesting ways while also managing to get solid performances out of the whole cast. For someone who has a pretty low key career, this film shows that he is more than comfortable with a camera.

The last thing that I want to praise are the scares that do work. I have to put that qualifier on because in just a moment I will be talking about my issues with a lot of the horror elements, but I really want to give credit to the frightening moments that are effective. When this film achieves fright, it’s always spine-chilling and goosebump-inducing. Whenever a scare hits in this film, it hits you hard. There are moments that are genuinely horrifying and haunting, creepy in ways that I’ve never seen. The movie as a whole is not horrifying, but those moments that do work are heavily effective. For instance, a sequence involving a premonition of a car accident was absolutely horrific to me. Such a small moment with a large effect.

 

Where this movie fails is just the fact that it’s a boring movie. It’s completely uninteresting, thanks to a script by Niall Johnson. It’s a pseudo-mystery film that doesn’t involve a compelling mystery, nor does it contain people who I give a shit about. Michael Keaton is fantastic and the cast as a whole is solid, but the characters themselves are paper thin. I had zero stakes in anybody’s story, which is key to a film that has heavy focus on people’s emotions and loss. There’s this huge lack of emotion to the story and characters, which creates a major disconnect. It doesn’t help that the pacing as a whole is just bad, the bulk of the film being Michael Keaton looking at fuzzy monitors with a concerned look on his face. In concept, I like this story a lot. When they introduce the EVP system, it seems like an incredibly creative storytelling device, but the script goes nowhere with any of this potential. All of this potential to do original, compelling stuff and it does none of it. It’s an uninteresting story that leads up to a horrible third act finale. This isn’t a shitty movie, but that climax is downright bullshit. It goes to some silly, boring places that I’ve seen so many times before and done a lot better.

I’d be okay with the lack of characters and emotional weight if the film sacrificed all of that to put it’s energy into scaring the shit out of me, but it absolutely fails at that too. A bulk of the scares are jump scares that involve white static yelling at the camera. Did they make me jump? Some of them yes, but the scares have no weight to them. As I mentioned above, there were some moments that were chilling and scary, but for the most part you’re given these jump scares that you always see coming and are honestly just repetitive. These bad scares make this movie even more boring than it already is. The scares should be waking me up but they ended up damn-near putting me to sleep. For a film that has a lot of potential, it goes nowhere with it especially in the fear department. It’s a film that introduces a very cool way to scare you, but totally half-asses it. You just get this feeling that nobody really tried with the horror aspect of this, which would be fine if they instead focused on characters and storytelling, but there’s none of that either. At the end of the day, it just doesn’t hit on a lot of the fronts it attempts to. I’ll tell you this, if you’re looking to be scared then look elsewhere.

I really wanted to like this movie more than I did, I know it has a big following and the idea has always interested me, but I just feel like this is a really lame execution to a fresh idea. It does have its bright spots such as Michael Keaton’s fantastic performance, a director with a great eye for visuals, and when the scares work they work very well. But that’s when they work, which isn’t very often. In fact, a vast majority of this movie is completely fucking boring. Like, mind-numbing dullness. It’s 80-minutes of looking at computers just to reach a resolution that is silly and didn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me as far as what was going on. It has a lot of potential and sets up some very cool twists, but ultimately can’t deliver on most of it. This isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just very meh. It’s that middle road where I can’t say that it’s flat-out shit, but I also can’t recommend it. Let’s put it this way, you could do much better but you could also do much worse, so take that as you will.

Rating: 5/10

Trailer:

About Mike Annerino 21 Articles
Horror has always kind of loomed over me without becoming a big influence on my life until a few years ago. I sort of always accidentally fell into a horror film-viewing experience, at parties or friends houses and such, but I always had this secret love with fear, found something fun and fascinating about it. These past few years I’ve been playing catch up and discovering everything I’ve missed in horror, a genre that is constantly being inventive and fun to watch. The embodiment of nightmares, which gives way for infinite possibilities. It’s easily become my favorite genre