The good news is that “White Noise 2” has very little in common with the dreadful 2005 original that starred a slightly perplexed Michael Keaton.
Since “Noise” was a sleeper hit due to crafty, three-card-monte marketing, the makers of “Noise 2” have their work cut out for them trying to dream up new scares to slap around chiller fans. In a case of divine intervention, this sequel is miles ahead of its forefather, turning a goofy premise of spiritual communication into a playful thriller boosted by a pleasingly game cast.
After witnessing his wife and child gunned down by a mysterious killer, Abe (Nathan Fillion, “Firefly,” “Waitress”) attempts suicide to stay with his family in the afterlife. Taken from the white light by medical intervention, Abe finds he can now sense when people are going to die through glowing visual clues. Empowered by this knowledge, Abe attempts to prevent death scenarios that he stumbles upon, even rescuing his own nurse (Katee Sackhoff, “Battlestar Galactica”) from danger. Trying to piece together the clues to his gift, he finds that the more he prevents death, the angrier supernatural forces become.
There wasn’t much of a story left behind in “White Noise” to build upon, so it’s wise to consider this sequel as only a faint continuation of the E.V.P. (Electronic Voice Phenomena) saga. Outside of the sinister mood and utility of afterlife transmissions, “Noise 2” has different goals for itself, namely to chase a more thrilling tone than a horror one.
Writer Matt Venne and director Patrick “DTV De Palma” Lussier create a cleaner objective for their modest picture, shaping Abe in the early going of the story as a superhero of sorts, employing his premonition for heroic means. It’s a terrific approach to the sequel, getting the energy up and moving fast with stylized suspense set-pieces sharply executed by Lussier, who cleaves away character development to spin the wheels faster.
Frankly I was tickled with the first two acts of the feature, finding Abe’s battle of bewilderment and N.D.E. (“Near Death Experience”) foresight to be a delightful cocktail of entertainment, assisted considerably by Fillion’s easy way with the character’s near-constant expression of amazement. Appreciating Fillion more when he’s at arm’s length from the “Browncoat” gibberish, it’s wonderful to see this talented actor finding more diverse roles.
The thrill-ride atmosphere is muted in the last act, when obligations to poltergeists and boo scares begin to assume full control of the piece. It’s a dispiriting development, but not an unforeseen turn. Lussier handles the supernatural overtures satisfactorily, along with Abe’s feverish research moments that have him thumbing through the bible and the scribbled rantings of a like-minded lunatic for clues to his affliction. However, if you’ve been a student of PG-13 horror for the last five years, you’ll already know where the scares are and how the climax will play out. Again, it’s all sold well by the cast, but by giving into the expected, “Noise 2” goes limp, save for a few Hitchcockian tension builders that mercifully steal frames away from boring old ghosts.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation of “White Noise 2” is a crisp, clean affair with vivid, sharp colors and lovely clarity. Deep blacks are plentiful and fleshtones are kept quite stable, which is typically not the case with cheapy genre exercises such as this. All in all, a good looking DVD.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix works the surrounds like champ, immersing the viewer in a bountiful ghostly environment. Dialogue is balanced well with the score, but the real juice is saved for the sound effects, adding to the film’s suspense in a major way.
Deleted scenes up the wazoo, totaling 33 minutes of footage kick off the extras on the DVD. To get the film rolling, Lussier took out the majority of Abe’s early mourning and general insular stewing. It’s superfluous footage, but adds some angles to Fillion’s performance that aren’t evident in the finished product. It also restores actor Adrian Holmes’s character arc as Abe’s worried BFF. Some good footage here.
“Exploring Near-Death Experience” (15 minutes) interviews those who have tangoed with death and lived to tell the tale. It’s always strange when a piece of popcorn entertainment such as “White Noise 2” becomes fixated on being taken seriously, so consider this featurette a must-see for anyone curious about the afterlife experience.
“The Making of ‘White Noise 2′” (8 minutes) is an EPK production with a little more focus than the average promotional fluff. Created with a sense of humor, the mini-documentary does a satisfying job covering the basics of the “White Noise 2” shoot, interviewing cast and crew during the making of the film, even openly wondering who would win in a fight between Starbuck and Mal.
“Journey into Madness” (6 minutes) follows production assistant Barbara Copp as she tours the “haunted” mental hospital set where much of the film was shot. Nathan Fillion soon joins her, and the two stroll around the complex looking for trouble. Most, if not all of this featurette is played for laughs, but it does offer an interesting peek at the shooting conditions.
“White Noise 2” is pretty much everything the original film wasn’t: genuinely exciting, well made, competently acted, and contains a payoff that remains in the realm of easy digestion. It’s not some barnstorming, brainless construct like many genre sequels; it’s more astute and gripping, making it one of the more unlikely newborn franchise success stories I’ve come across in recent years.Rating: B