Unusual for a sequel, 'White Noise 2' features no characters from the original film. Instead, it takes a few trappings of the first film’s gimmick, Electronic Voice Phenomenon (E.V.P.), and builds an entirely new story around them. Nathan Fillion ('Firefly,' 'Desperate Housewives') stars as Abe, an ordinary guy who watches his wife and son brutally murdered before his very eyes by a psychotic gunman. Overcome with grief, Abe soon attempts suicide, only to be resuscitated at the last minute by well-meaning doctors. When Abe awakens, he discovers that he has gained the ability to hear dead people communicating via portions of static on electronic devices.
It is here that 'White Noise 2' departs significantly from its predecessor. Abe is not just confined to watching static on TV screens -- he also has the power to "sense" the impending doom of others by the appearance of their aura -- seeing spectral light around anyone soon scheduled to depart this mortal coil. This knowledge soon places him in an existential predicament. Though he is free to intervene and alter the course of fate, should he? And what are the consequences? When Abe turns for guidance to a nurse ('Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff), the story veers off into unforeseen (and increasingly improbable) territory.
'White Noise 2' is less narratively scattershot than the first film, but it still tackles too many genres for its own good. After a strong first act that sees Abe coming to terms with his newfound abilities, the script (by newcomer Matt Venne) doesn't seem to know where to go next -- at times it appears to be a thriller, at other times a meditative drama, then it veers into straight-ahead horror. Unfortunately, this schizophrenic approach only dilutes the central drama, which is a shame since early on, the script promises to explore territory untouched since Stephen King's underrated 'The Dead Zone' -- a story that earnestly examined the toll of genuine psychic ability without resorting to hokey genre cliches.
Director Patrick Lussier made his name editing Wes Craven films (including 'Red Eye' and the Scream trilogy), but he has since become a direct-to-video hack-for-hire, helming such forgettable fare as 'The Prophecy 3' and the Dracula 2000 series. His uninspired choices on 'White Noise 2' will do little to improve his genre standing. ’White Noise 2’ is visually nondescript, with bargain basement CGI and little flair for staging action (on screen geography is always confusing). Dramatic scenes play on the level of TV movies, with only the likable Fillion and Sackhoff making the threadbare material work at all.
By the climactic "twist" ending, Lussier and Venne have squandered almost all of the movie’s initial potential. Without spoiling the film’s final moments, the ending is an utterly preposterous avalanche of lame contrivances. It's a shame when supernatural-themed films lose faith in their characters and situations, feeling they need to use gimmicks to keep the audience interested. Fillion makes for such an engaging hero that he doesn't need an overcomplicated plot to make us care -- too bad Lussier and Venne didn't realize that as well.
Still, for all its flaws (and despite its direct-to-video status), 'White Noise 2' manages to improve slightly upon its predecessor, with elements that really do work. Funny enough, given the up tick in quality of 'White Noise 2,” a 'White Noise 3' might not be an entirely unwelcome proposition. If so, let's hope they bring back Fillion, but pick a better script and a better director.
Released theatrically overseas, 'White Noise 2' got lost somewhere on its way to theaters in the US and was instead sent direct to video. Compared to the usual low standards of direct-to-video material, this transfer looks quite good, if never exceptional.
Presented in 1080p/VC-1 video at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it's readily apparent that the filmmakers went a bit overboard with the whole "spectral light" motif. Scenes are either over-lit to the point of blooming or flush with hazy filters, which gives everything an appropriate ghostly but bleached-out look. Black levels rarely have the kind of deep, inky richness that would really make the image pop, and shadows are washed out at times. Colors are suitably bland as well, with only deep blues and greens in the darkest scenes having any appealing saturation.
However, considering this is a direct-to-video flick, the transfer still has a good deal of detail and some depth. Sharpness is not the best, but at least there’s little evident edge enhancement. This is also a pretty clean encode, with no major artifacts, aside from a fair amount of visible noise throughout (especially on blown-out areas of the picture and patches of solid, intense color). All in all, not a bad transfer considering the circumstances.
Universal has shelled out for a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) on 'White Noise 2,' and like the video, it's pretty good for a direct-to-video movie. I was never truly unnerved by all the creepy sonic goings-on, but there's still enough activity to keep things hopping.
Surround use is fairly well engaged and discrete effects kick in for the big shock stinger moments, but there's also some nice use of droning ambient noises and minor score cues to increase the envelopment. Oftentimes the mix seems a bit rushed, with an obvious lack of creativity to even the big action scenes, but again, for a video premiere flick, it's above average.
Tech specs aren't bad, either. I wasn't blown away by the expansive dynamics or the pumping low bass, but the recording sounds smooth and the subwoofer delivers adequately when needed. Background dialogue and other "looped" sounds do seem a bit flat and cheap, as if there wasn't money left in the budget to properly balance them with the rest of the mix. The main dialogue also recedes back too far for my taste, and is sometimes overwhelmed by loud sound effects. The source elements are clean, however, with no hiss or other defects audible.
'White Noise 2' benefits from a batch of supplements healthier than most direct-to-video productions, and in a nice touch, much of the video material here is presented in full 1080i/VC-1 video.
'White Noise 2' is a better-than-average direct-to-video sequel to a film that didn’t deserve one. Surprisingly, it’s slightly more engaging and well-done than the original, although that still doesn’t make a good movie. As an HD DVD release, this one’s fairly nice, with solid video and audio plus a healthy assortment of extras. 'White Noise 2' probably won't appeal to anyone outside of dedicated genre buffs, but if you happen to fall in that category, give it a rent.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.