M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense ranks as the most influential American horror movie since Scream. Its influence can be felt particularly strongly in White Noise, a convoluted thriller in which the dead use detuned electronic frequencies as a supernatural ham radio to contact the living. In a move worthy of William Castle, the ads for White Noise hype the real-life pseudo-science of EVP"electronic voice phenomenon," through which the dearly departed ostensibly kibbitz with friends and familynearly as much as they hype the film itself. EVP remains, to put it charitably, a sketchy phenomenon, but it's a testament to Michael Keaton's fine lead performance that White Noise doesn't come off as laughably preposterous.
Fate works double-time in Keaton's favor as the film opens. He's a successful architect with an adorable son and a newly pregnant wife who's also a bestselling author beautiful enough to double as a romance-novel model opposite Fabio. Keaton's perfect world is shattered when his wife goes missing and an enormous jowl of a man claims that she's been sending him messages. Keaton is initially skeptical, but mourning leads him to plunge into the shadowy underworld of EVP, and before long, he's seemingly devoting every waking hour to recording crackling white noise on the radio and TV in hope of hearing from his wife.
As a man cursed to inhabit a grim netherworld between the dead and the living, Keaton gives a refreshingly vanity-free performance. Aided by deep bags under his eyes and lighting that highlights every wrinkle on his face, Keaton so thoroughly inhabits his character's grief that it becomes semi-plausible that a seemingly sane man could devote his entire life to chasing ghosts in the machine. His performance ultimately belongs in a deeper, more artful film, but while White Noise's derivative plot doesn't stand up to much scrutiny, it's at least a fairly effective Twilight Zone/Sixth Sense fusion that largely steers clear of gore and excess bloodshed. By the time sinister ghouls that resemble overgrown Rorschach blots begin whooshing through the action, it becomes clear that White Noise is little more than an old-fashioned ghost story with a newfangled twist. But Keaton's effortless authenticity can't help but rub off on a movie that desperately needs every thin link to plausibility it can muster.