Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) is a happily married architect with one young son, and today starts much like any other day with the family getting ready to go to work and school. Jonathan's wife is Anna (Chandra West), a successful novelist who has a big surprise for him before they leave the house: she's pregnant again. Jonathan is overjoyed at the news and has to struggle not to tell everyone else; as his wife drives away she says something to him but he can't hear it over the engine noise... little does he know that this is the last time he will see his wife as when he gets back from work, there may be a message on the answerphone but that will be all anyone will hear of Anna. Or will it?
A surprise, if brief, hit, White Noise was scripted by Niall Johnson and takes the paranormal phenomenon of E.V.P. as its hook. What is E.V.P? It's the practice of using electronic recording instruments such as tape or video recorders to receive messages from the dead - or Electronic Voice Phenomenon. This has been at the fringes of science, some would say the wackier fringes of science, for some decades, and the film helpfully explains what is going on via a title card at the start. However, you can't simply have Keaton fiddling with his shortwave radio for an hour and a half, even if it looks like that's the way it's going for a while.
Anna has disappeared, apparently after trying to fix a flat tyre and accidentally slipping into the nearby river. Weeks go by and there's no word, but Jonathan has had a strange series of phone calls which according to his cellphone are emanating from Anna's cellphone, even when he's holding it in his hand and it's not switched on. When he answers, all he hears is static. So the phenomenon of phone calls from the dead is also utilised by the script for a bonus chill, although Jonathan doesn't get a coherent message. Then he notices a man is following him and hanging around outside his home and office, which leads to a confrontation.
The man introduces himself as Raymond Price (Ian McNeice), an expert in E.V.P. who can help Jonathan contact his dead wife. The bereaved husband is sceptical at first, but not for too long as that would hold up the plot, so after a demonstration at Raymond's house and not a possibilty of the TV picking up signals from faraway television stations being considered he agrees to join in some sessions. He also meets Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) there, who lost her fiancé, and has just made a connection with him from the other side. It's not all Doris Stokes-style comforting, though, as Raymond makes it clear that sometimes the voices can be threatening.
When Jonathan goes to see a medium, she warns him that he's, yes, meddling in things man was not meant to know, which is pretty rich coming from a spiritualist. Undeterred, he sets up his own listening apparatus, basically a lot of untuned TVs and tape recorders, and settles down to a montage of staring at the screens and replaying indistinct sounds. All through the film there are hisses and blips on the soundtrack, and the expected abrupt, loud noises to make you jump, but it's clear that while E.V.P. is intriguing in real life, in the movies you have to hang a story around it, and the plot we are offered here is the tired scary ghosts coupled with a cliché serial killer one. It's commendably low key for much of the time, yet there's a lack of inspiration that might have served a half hour Twilight Zone but is flimsy here. Music by Claude Foisy.