White Noise
dir. Sax
Opens Fri Jan 7
Various Theaters

As fear-inducing fictions go, ghosts have been around forever--which means anyone writing a ghost story has to make them both relevant and modern. For an excellent example of how not to do this, see White Noise.

Beginning in an idyllic, boring tone--architect Jonathan (Michael Keaton) kicks it with his wife, Anna (Chandra West)--White Noise turns not-so-idyllic when Anna dies. Jonathan quickly meets Raymond (Ian McNeice), a kook who informs him of a thoroughly 21st Century type of haunting--one in which the dead speak via VCRs and tape recorders.

Raymond isn't convincing at all, but before you know it, Jonathan's mournfully caressing static-filled TVs, waiting to hear from Anna. When she inevitably contacts him, she somehow shows Jonathan deaths before they happen--inspiring Jonathan to go all ghostbuster and try to save people before they die. (Niall Johnson's relentlessly boring script never really explains any of this, and perhaps that's for the best.) Ultimately, so little happens throughout most of White Noise that the filmmakers feel the need to pack the final act full of action; after a perversely admirable display of uninspired ripoffs and weary clichés, the film's climax becomes as nonsensical as it is predictable.

But White Noise's biggest offense is simply that it's never scary; the film's director, Geoffrey Sax, possesses neither the skill to be subtly creepy nor the nerve to make White Noise all-out frightening. If this is what modern hauntings look like, it makes one long for the days when ghosts were just made out of bed sheets.