There's clever scary, thrilling scary, and "I have no idea what I'm doing so every few minutes I'll just jump in front of you and screech in your face" scary.
The first order of business in "White Noise" is to put some text onscreen explaining that it's about "EVP," Electronic Voice Phenomenon, in which the dead like to taunt the living by masking cryptic messages in broadcast static at 3am. The fact that Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) is going to be EVPeed on by his dead-at-first-plot-point wife Anna (Chandra West) isn't so much foreshadowed as bat-signaled, so it's amazing that we burn 40 minutes of screen time waiting for it to actually happen. We kill the time watching Jonathan and Anna bask in their perfect home, perfect careers and perfect pregnancy. Frankly, I'd have rather spent those 40 minutes in a Greyhound station sampling bum vomit.
After tuning in some of Anna's post-mortem mumbles, Jonathan joins the EVP club, but eventually unleashes dark and dangerous forces, namely director Geoffrey Sax's startlingly deficient creativity. "White Noise" becomes a horror movie, and while Jonathan is the last to see a lot of dead people, he's never a serious suspect in any of the deaths, which just goes to show you the value of being a white guy.
There's clever scary, thrilling scary, and "I have no idea what I'm doing so every few minutes I'll just jump in front of you and screech in your face" scary. Sax relies heavily on the latter technique, blasting shrieking noises at random moments at eardrum-splitting volumes. It's scary only insofar as someone blasting an air horn in your face is scary. Sure, you jump a bit, but you're more pissed off than scared. About every 10 minutes, Sax delivers a fresh such "scare" with all the subtlety of a roadside bomb. If you're just back from Iraq, I don't recommend it. Come to think of it, I don't recommend it for anyone.
This is what makes "White Noise" so notably bad: While some movies are simply inept, Sax assaults the audience directly with his nonsensical miasma of flickering static and grating noises. Since this is Sax's first foray outside the world of television, maybe he just doesn't like film audiences. All I know is that when the lights came up, I felt annoyed and abused and in need of a shower.
By the end, Jonathan proves to be such an idiot that you root for the evil forces to finish him off (but soon, please God, soon). His dead wife repeatedly broadcasts warnings such as "Go, go!" and he stands there like he forgot how to take out the trash and yells "Go where, honey? Go where?" If you're in the audience, I suggest you heed Anna's warning the first time you hear it.
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