White Noise directed by Geoffrey Sax, written by Niall Johnson, produced by Paul Brooks and Shawn Williamson, with Michael Keaton, Chandra West and Deborah Kara Unger. 100 minutes. A Universal/TVA release. Opens Friday (January 7). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Going into the suite for an interview with Michael Keaton is like gingerly unwrapping layers of tissue paper. His attendants seem gun-shy, patting around for his sunglasses, asking if he needs a glass of water, a breath of fresh air, a break. No, he shrugs, and folds back into his chair.
He sits sideways with an arm flung over the chair back and an ankle crossed, foot jittering, over his knee. Suddenly, he springs up and paces across the hotel suite to an armoire.
"Do you want some chocolate?" he asks, rifling through a cut-glass bowl and coming up with a Dove bar.
He's got earnest, flat, shark-blue crinkly eyes and an edgy inwardness. His angular unease serves him well in White Noise, where he plays an emotionally muffled architect who sinks into a creepy obsession with television static after the disappearance of his pregnant wife. The static - here's where the thriller part comes in - transmits the voices of the dead, an occurrence known among supernatural types as Electronic Voice Phenomena.
It's ideal material for a supernatural thriller, involving long sequences of intense focus on a hissing void from which evil ghosts unpredictably jump out. And Keaton, his manic energy clamped down tight under his lowering eyebrows, is surprisingly right for the part, given that one of his big strengths as an actor is his talent for unhinged improv.
"Unfortunately, the nature of the movie didn't allow for that," he says. "I used to go see scary movies, and I'd think, 'That must be tough to direct,' because you're creating a mood - so you can't say, 'Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we did this here?' It ain't cool if you do something that's getting in the way of the pace or the story."
He talks in rambling ellipses, with the same part-brooding, part-manic energy that fuelled his early career, from his peaks in Batman and Beetlejuice to his more recent valleys as a talking snowman in Jack Frost and a George W. Bush simulacrum in First Daughter.
"My consistency is being inconsistent. I made decisions to be a bad guy, to do a supporting role. It's just what I wanted to do, and I wanted to do it as long as I could, because as I'm finding out, no one has as many chances. They're not making as many different kinds of movies as they used to. There are fewer opportunities. And I want to do something that moves me in some way.
"I didn't think I was particularly good in the things I'd done, and I was thinking, 'Maybe you're not inspired, maybe you're just not good any more, or maybe you just don't like it.'
"Sometimes you've got to stop moving so fast and get quiet inside and just watch for a minute, just pay attention to yourself. And you've got to be really trusting. You've got to trust yourself a lot.
"To really satisfy yourself on a basic, basic level, I think you need to go find a little movie or write your own little movie or go get in a play, because there's nothing better than pure acting."
Which is why he's flirting with the indie world. He's just finished starring in director Michael Hoffman's micro-budget Game 6.
"There were so many things that didn't make any sense about the project - there's no money in it, everybody basically made it for free - but I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I finally called them up and said, 'Let's make this movie.'
"It's the most fun I've had acting in so long I can't even tell you."
White Noise (Geoffrey Sax)
This is a good old-fashioned supernatural suspense thriller about Electronic Voice Phenomena, starring Michael Keaton as a bereaved architect whose recently deceased pregnant wife starts warning him, via TV static, about future disasters.This is a good old-fashioned supernatural suspense thriller about Electronic Voice Phenomena, starring Michael Keaton as a bereaved architect whose recently deceased pregnant wife starts warning him, via TV static, about future disasters.
Sax, helped greatly by Chris Seager's properly spooky cinematography, wisely keeps the film light on dialogue and heavy on tape hiss, startling appearances by evil ghosts and menacing vistas of rain-drenched warehouses at midnight. Sax, helped greatly by Chris Seager's properly spooky cinematography, wisely keeps the film light on dialogue and heavy on tape hiss, startling appearances by evil ghosts and menacing vistas of rain-drenched warehouses at midnight.
White Noise probably won't make you think, but it will make you jump, which is sometimes better.White Noise probably won't make you think, but it will make you jump, which is sometimes better.