White Noise [2005].

Where did I come from? Where was I before I was born? Why am I here? Where do I go when I die? These are some of the Great Questions of life, the eternal mysteries that have exercised the minds of humanity since the Beginning. And despite all that huge history of enquiry we are no nearer to a solution than when we began, although there have been a host of possible answers suggested, particularly with regard to last of these. What comes next?. We have all had a crack at that one with theories ranging from the plausible to the preposterous.

One line of enquiry has been the field known as Electronic Voice Phenomenon [EVP], a notion that has been around as long as the technologies of radio transmission and sound recording. It is based on the belief that it might be possible to receive messages from the dead on equipment that is sufficiently sensitive, a path of enquiry first explored in a concrete way by one Attila Szaloy, an American photographer, in the 1940s. Very much on the fringe of occult research, it is nevertheless a minor industry now, and it is this theme that acclaimed British Director Geoffrey Sax picked up for ‘White Noise’. Coming from a long and distinguished career in television production, this, his first theatrical movie production, is everything that one would expect from such a gifted Director.

Architect Jonathan Rivers [Michael Keating] has everything, or so it would seem. A successful career, a lovely house on the river, a gorgeous young wife who is a celebrated writer of thriller novels. The day begins bright and cheerful and full of hope. Jonathan has a project that he is working on while Anna [Chandra West] has a meeting with her publisher to talk about her latest book. Jonathan comes home, but Anna is late. Time passes. More time passes. Rivers falls asleep at the table, but wakes to find that the clock has stopped at 0230am. He reaches up to restart it and as he does the radio inexplicably turns itself on.

The next morning Anna’s car is found by the river bank, but there is no sign of Anna. Days become weeks, and still there is no sign of Anna. Everyone knows, but no-one will say it; she is dead. Then Rivers notices a heavy-featured man who has been watching him. He accosts the man, who introduces himself as Raymond Price [Ian McNeice], a researcher in EVP. Price has had messages from Anna, proving that she is dead. Rivers angrily rejects him, but not long afterwards there is a knock at the door at exactly 0230am. It is the Police. Anna’s body has been found at an abandoned cement works some miles upstream. Her effects, purse, jewellery, cellphone, are returned to him.

Rivers starts to move on with his life, selling the house by the river and buying a new apartment in town. Time passes, then one day his cellphone rings. According to the screen the call is coming from Anna’s cellphone. Dashing home, he finds the device where he left it – in a drawer. Turning to the ansaphone he finds that a message had been left, but when he replays it there is only meaningless crackling, white noise; the message was recorded at exactly 0230am.

Convinced now that Anna is trying to contact him, Rivers turns to Price, who plays him recordings of what sounds like Anna calling to him. While at Price’s house, Rivers meets Sarah Tate [Deborah Kara Unger], a bookshop-owner whom Price has also helped to contact a dead loved one. Rivers listens again to Anna’s voice, but this time there are other noises, and a sudden shadow briefly darkens the room. Rivers learns that there are ‘other things’ out there, not all of them friendly. Not long afterwards he receives a call from Price urgently asking him to come around as Price has some new information, but when he arrives he finds Price dead and all his equipment destroyed. One intact screen plays a blurred image of three vague figures.

Rivers seeks out Sarah, who holds many of Price’s twenty-three years’ worth of records, and purchases equipment of his own. He and Sarah start to do some research, and he spends many hours listening, watching for any sign of Anna until eventually he begins to receive unsettling messages. He consults a blind clairvoyant, Mirabelle Keegan [Keegan Connor Tracy] who warns him that contacting the dead is one thing, but meddling is another and very dangerous thing, and Rivers is meddling. Ignoring the warning, Rivers continues, obsessed. Before long, however, he realises that the messages that he is receiving are not about what has happened but about what will happen. He begins to understand that he can help prevent deaths if only he can reach people in time.

One evening Rivers realises that he is getting information about a missing woman, Mary Freeman. Anna is calling him, but there are other sounds, harsh and frightening, that whisper ‘She is ours!’. The three figures appear on screen. Sarah is terrified and begs him to stay with her at her apartment, which he does, but when he leaves her for a moment to go to the bathroom shadows appear. He dashes back to the lounge where he watches, helpless, as Sarah falls from her fourth floor balcony. She is still alive – just – and may recover, but she knows that something very dangerous is after them. Rivers does not listen. Returning from the hospital to his apartment he finds that it has been completely trashed, all his equipment save one screen smashed. Vague images flicker across it, images that suddenly seem to be hauntingly familiar. With a shock, Rivers realises that they are of the old cement works where Anna’s body was found. He knows without question now that Mary Freeman is still alive, and where she is.

As Rivers heads for his car and the old cement works, three ghostly figures flicker across the screen. The time is approaching 0230am.

In White Noise Geoffrey Sax and writer Niall Johnson have crafted a very finely tuned supernatural thriller, leading the viewer through a maze of dissociated ingredients that gradually begin to make grim sense as Rivers slowly but surely joins the dots. Making use of the skills of the detective, the spiritualist and the technician, the tension is ratcheted up and up until it is possible to believe that EVP actually works. But it is only a story, after all.

Isn’t it?

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