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A spooky snack, not a monstrous meal

For me, a ghost film should satisfy me like a spicy Mexican dinner. It needs a hearty story that leaves me sated with a shock factor that keeps me zipping after the film, like the after-buzz of a hot pepper. White Noise has some necessary spine-chilling zest, but that doesn't make a frightening feast.

Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) loses his beautiful new wife, Anna (Chandra West), to a mysterious accident. While grieving, he is approached by Raymond Price (Ian McNeice), an Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) specialist, who receives messages from her beyond the grave. EVP, is the use of radio and video equipment to transmit the voices and images of the dead. Though at first standoffish, Jonathan's curiosity leads him to Raymond's high-tech lab where he becomes addicted to the fuzzy voice and hazy image of his wife.

Unfortunately for him, there are also bad spirits out there trying to communicate, and they don't have very pleasant things to say. They also like to cause serious havoc, much to Raymond's chagrin.

Turns out, Jonathan is also receiving warnings of upcoming violent deaths, possibly from Anna, but he is unable to stop the accidents. People start dropping like flies. So when a friend and EVP neophyte, Sarah Tate (Deborah Kara Unger), appears in TV static, he gets a bit edgy.

But he also starts doing some investigative work. Eventually, the story becomes an afterlife-detective affair with Jonathan using brief video and audio clues to find a missing woman feared abducted. He also learns more about his wife's death.

Most interesting about the movie is the eerie sound mixing that helps create necessary tension. Obviously the white-noise hiss is quite prevalent, but there are other creepy yet familiar sounds strewn throughout the scenery -- the muted shush of a distant fountain, or a hollow echoing as if the audience were trapped in an steel room, catching just the faintest wisps of sound from the outside. Add in sounds of air being sucked from rooms and distant whispering voices, and you've got the spookiest part of the film.

But sound alone can't carry a ghost film. That's like a meal based solely on its aroma. It needs some sustenance. Unfortunately, White Noise's plot is hampered by too many happenings that just loosely related. Their only real connection is that they appear on the static-covered screen.

Furthermore, many characters and situations seem pointless and remain completely undeveloped. For instance, Jonathan's ex-wife and son appear quite a bit but add nothing to the plot except a vague notion that Jonathan is a bit dysfunctional. In addition, before Anna's death, she remarks that she may be pregnant. This seems like a pivotal moment at the time, but there is no further news of the child beyond the grave. Also, three evil spirits constantly appear together on Jonathan's TV screen, spouting invectives and causing wreckage, yet their background is never explained. There's even a cop who enters the scene after each death connected with Jonathan's video experiment, but he may as well be a cyborg for all his emotional involvement.

And as for Keaton, well, lets just say he's still Mr. Mom but less funny and with more wrinkles.

White Noise has a good premise and some jumpy moments, and it sets out to be a feast of fear. It has the television spooks of Poltergeist, the creepy possessions of The Omen, the manhunt of Silence of the Lambs, the "voices told me to do it" killer of Psycho, the "I miss my partner" sadness of Ghost and the "I see dead people" mentality of The Sixth Sense. This may sound like a spicy buffet of terrorizing thrills but each portion is so undeveloped that the whole seems like a platter of mild appetizers with an occasional jalepeno popper. It may tie you over for a night, but it won't fill your hunger for haunted horror.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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