Dir: Geoffrey Sax.UK-Can. 2004. 98mins.
The idea of communicatingwith the dead has always had an irresistibly spooky appeal and with WhiteNoise production outfit Gold Circle and a team of mainly Britishbehind-the-scenes talents do a decent job building a movie around the hi-techequivalent of ouija boards and seances.
Financed as a UK/Canadaco-production but essentially a US project, this serviceable supernaturalthriller (not to be confused with the planned big screen version of DonDeLillo's novel White Noise) has already made a mark in North Americaand it should go on to produce at least respectable returns worldwide.
The film opened domesticallylast weekend, as the initial release under Gold Circle's first-look USdistribution deal with Universal. With no direct competition in thepost-holiday marketplace and a PG-13 rating that made it easily accessible toteen as well as older cinemagoers, it performed well above expectations,grossing an estimated $24m from around 2,300 sites. The strong domestic runlooks likely to continue until other scary movies arrive in the marketplace ina few weeks' time, such as Hide And Seek and Alone In The Dark.
The movie rolls outinternationally between now and May, with Universal (through UIP) distributingin a few territories and independents (which have licensed the film fromSenator International) handling the rest of the world. Lack of star power -headliner Michael Keaton has kept a low profile since his Batman days - will bea drawback outside the US, but with the right kind of marketing White Noiseshould still have some theatrical potential. And it could turn out to be a veryhandy earner in video and TV markets.
According to Universal'spress notes, Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) - by which the dead communicatewith the living through the static and 'white noise' on TV sets and radios -have been tracked for the past 20 years by a worldwide movement of ghosthunters. In the movie, Keaton's Jonathan Rivers is a successful architect wholoses his wife Anna (West) in an apparent accident and is approached by EVPresearcher Raymond (British character actor McNeice), who claims to have pickedup messages from Anna from the other side.
Initially sceptical,Jonathan is driven by grief to explore EVP and eventually his growing obsessionleads him into contact with malevolent forces, from this world and the next.
Director Geoffrey Sax, bestknown for UK TV work including an acclaimed update of Othello, acquitshimself fairly well in his US feature debut. Working from a script by NiallJohnson (The Big Swap and UK TV projects including Legend Of HiddenCity), Sax gives the film a slow, restrained build-up that usesanticipation rather than shocks - though he does deliver a handful of effectivejolts - to grip the audience. Only very gradually is it revealed that Jonathanmay be getting in above his head.
Effects are used sparingly,mostly to produce the muffled sounds and vague but unsettling images Jonathanrecords from the banks of electronic equipment he installs in his apartment.
In its second half, however,the film seems to lose its nerve as well as its coherence. Raymond disappearsfrom the story prematurely, as does Jonathan's young son. Another character, ayoung widow (Kara Unger) who helps Jonathan with his research, is introducedbut then killed off to little dramatic effect.
Most disappointingly, thestory veers away from the supernatural realm and resorts to a relativelyprosaic murder thriller ending.
Though his marquee valueisn't what it used to be, Keaton was probably a wise choice to star. His manicacting style is unsettling in itself and he resists that temptation to over-actJonathan's grief. The supporting players don't get much screen time and it's ashame, in particular, that McNeice isn't used more.
Prod cos: Gold Circle Films, Brightlight Pictures, EndgameEntertainment
US dist: Universal Pictures
Intl sales: Senator International
Exec prods: Scott Niemeyer, NormWaitt, Simon Brooks, Stephen Hegyes
Prods: Paul Brooks, ShawnWilliamson
Scr: Niall Johnson
Cinematography: Chris Seager
Ed: Nick Arthurs
Prod des: Michael S Bolton
Costume des: Karen Matthews
Music: Claude Foisy
Main cast: Michael Keaton,Deborah Kara Unger, Chandra West, Ian McNeice