Full disclosure time – I've never seen the first White Noise film, and I only rented this one because it stars my beloved Nathan Fillion, of Serenity/Firefly fame and from the underrated Slither (and who complimented me on my hat when I met him last year).But for a direct-to-DVD sequel to a movie I've never seen and haven't heard much good about, White Noise 2: The Light is better than it has a right to be.
Abe Dale (Nathan Fillion is the movie's saving grace) has a wonderfully happy life with his loving wife and young son. So of course, tragedy looms. Before the opening credits Abe's wife and son are murdered by a random lunatic. Abe is distraught and grieving, and worse still, he doesn't have my phone number. If he did, I could invite him over and aim to misbehave. I mean, I could make him some cinnamon toast and give him consoling hugs. Lots of consoling hugs. Oh mais oui.
Where was I? Anyway, Abe decides to make the pain go "poof" by downing several bottles of pills and a quart of booze. Unfortunately he neglected to read chapter four of Suicide for Dummies, in which they tell you not to leave your suicide note on your answering machine in case well-meaning friends hear it and try to change your plans. Abe gets rushed to the hospital where he flatlines and has the whole light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel experience and is just about to have a happy reunion with his wife and kid when the doctors zap him with the paddles and resuscitate him. Thanks a lot, doc!
Once Abe recovers he finds that he's hearing all sorts of audio/visual distortions on electronic devices, and even more worrisome, starts seeing a white light around people who are soon to die. You'd think, after finding out first-hand about the afterlife, Abe would be reconciled to the whole mortality thing, but instead he starts trying to save those marked for death, and opens up a big spooky can of worms in the process. So much for being a Good Samaritan.
The main problem with White Noise 2 is that it can't decide what it wants to be. Is it a spooky yet poignant film about mortality, like Jacob's Ladder? Or is it a ripoff of The Ring? Unfortunately the film's most successful moments are in the former category but it spends way too much time in the latter, with lots of "Boo! Gotcha!" scares with mangled ghosts showing up randomly and TVs going all static-y. The special effects have a surprising amount of good stunt work, but far too much overdone CGI (i.e. the tunnel of light scene, which should be serene but has too much extraneous spookiness). Likewise, the screenplay is strong in places, with some plot twists that are actually surprising, but a tacked-on "stinger" ending almost ruins the whole thing. The film-makers would have done well to emulate Jacob's Ladder or perhaps The Changeling, and left the Ring-y business alone.
Luckily we have Nathan Fillion on hand to give it his all and more or less save the film. He gets to run the full emotional spectrum from happiness to despair, from confusion and terror to bittersweet resignation. He does a great job with the role and he's fairly well served by the screenplay, which presents Abe as a good-hearted and intelligent man. It's too bad the role and performance weren't in a stronger movie. (And as a Firefly fan I did appreciate the reference to Captain Reynolds, clumsy as it was.)
The rest of the cast is fine, with Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff as a nurse who befriends Abe. Her character's a shade too cheery considering the downbeat goings-on of the movie, but she and Fillion have good chemistry and their relationship is believable.
The extras are quite fun, including two featurettes about the film with Fillion being his incredibly charming and funny self (anyone who's seen his other behind-the-scenes features or his convention appearances will know exactly what I'm talking about). There's also a documentary on near-death experiences with survivors testifying about the experience.
White Noise 2 isn't the movie it could have been, but it's far better than I expected.