Thursday, January 13, 2005

Title: White Noise
Cast: Michael Keaton, Chandra West, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice, Sarah Strange
Director: Geoffrey Sax

E.V.P. Electronic Voice Phenomena. According to the introduction of the film White Noise there have been scientific investigation into this phenomena since 1939. There has been at least one CD released of recordings claimed to be examples of EVP. It was something which cropped up in William Gibson’s most recent novel Pattern Recognition.

EVP is described as the occurrence of voices captured on an electronic medium, voices which are allegedly those of the dead. The first recordings were made using tapes, though White Noise extends the idea to video, and couples it with computer software to enhance recordings. Like many proposed ways of contracting the dead, EVP is met with some scepticism. Bringing about the accusation that much of the “evidence” for EVP has in fact been faked.

Though in the context of White Noise is taken as fact. Michael Keaton plays a man who loses his wife in an accident. Struggling to come to terms with her death, he is approached by a man claiming to have received messages from his wife. Initially he drives the man away, but is soon being introduced to the idea of EVP. From there it isn’t much of a leap before he is making his own recordings in an obsessive fashion. Keaton spends hours recording blank audio and video tapes and listening to the playback for voices, watching recordings of static for the faces of the dead. He carries this on despite warnings that he is meddling with forces he doesn’t understand, an idea which gains ground as the messages he receives take on a dark edge.

As a film White Noise is something of a mixed bag. The tension is understated, with much of the film plodding along. Such that at times White Noise feels like it is dragging. On the other hand that provides a certain emphasis for the “fright” moments, as they feel more like they came out of nowhere. These moments in particular make it worth while seeing White Noise in the cinema – the joy of other people – a couple sit to my right, the girl says at the start how she’ll be scared, only for her boyfriend to jump out of his skin on cue.

Recently the East is where the best chillers are coming from, a fact evidenced by the American remake of The Ring, with clips of the American versions of Ring 2 and Dark Water circulating or release this year, and The Eye supposedly in the works. In White Noise we have what may be the first original American film to take this influence on board. Most obviously the images that lunge from the TV’s static in a way particularly reminiscent of The Ring.

Clear comparisons can also be made with the recent British thriller Trauma. To some degree both have similar visual techniques and thematic undercurrents. In both films the lead male character is mourning the death of their wife. There is also the celebrity aspect, and how the media reacts to the death/disappearances in question. Visually Trauma made use of CCTV footage and little associated twitches to create a level of atmosphere, with the use of blue tinted static/CCTV effect segues from scene to scene in White Noise.

Some negatives stem from Keaton’s performance, though I’ve never particularly been a fan of his, he doesn’t seem especially emotional. When he has EVP explained and demonstrated for him, he doesn’t seem especially impressed or interested, yet goes from there to total obsession. Though to be fair he does seem to pull off obsessive better than other emotions he attempts.

On the other hand, I found it interesting that the plot didn’t try to explain everything. One thing to remember is that mysteries can be good, and it is also harder to poke holes in a film if you don’t try too hard to explain. With that the repeated image of 3 figures works well, unexplained and building a strength in symbolism as a result.

Like the film on the whole, the ending comes with mixed results. There is a point where the film could have finished and didn’t – okay, it would have annoyed a lot of people, but would have had more impact. Instead White Noise opts for a tidier conclusion.

On the whole perhaps not a brilliant film, the pacing issues really do count against it, but still a decent piece.

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