OK, someone please explain to me what the heck is going on in the realm of direct-to-video sequel-dom. First we get the surprisingly enjoyable Wrong Turn 2, and then the slight improvement that was Boogeyman 2, and now comes a flick called White Noise 2 (which has been sitting on a shelf at Universal for well over a year), and get this: Yep, it's better than its predecessor. (The one that was good enough to earn a full-bore theatrical release and earn over $55 million in the process.) But that movie had an established movie star (the very cool Michael Keaton) as the lead, whereas White Noise 2 would have to sell itself on the backs of Nathan Fillion and Katee Sackhoff. Fans of high-quality sci-fi television are more than familiar with both actors; Fillion played Malcolm Reynolds on the cult favorite Firefly, and Sackhoff is a big fan favorite for her work in Battlestar Galactica. So obviously there's a small but loyal pair of fan-bases out there that are willing to give White Noise 2 a shot -- and let's not forget about all the loyal horror freaks who just have to check out all the new sequels -- just in case there's some buried treasure scattered about.
But while I wouldn't call White Noise 2 a cache of buried treasure, I would definitely call it a surprisingly engrossing and unexpectedly well-made little chiller. Definitely not the most memorable horror sequel you'll ever come across, but when you're dealing with 'in name only' sequels that were released directly to the video market -- it's important to be thankful for small favors and slight surprises. White Noise 2 borrows a bit of the "EVP" (haunted static!) concept from the first film, but it's pretty much a stand-alone movie in every other respect. The premise is enjoyably simple: A normal Joe (Fillion) takes his wife and son out for breakfast, but he chose the wrong restaurant. In a grimly effective opening sequence, normal Joe's wife and son are gunned down by a total stranger. Three months later, our inconsolable sorta-hero tries to down a bunch of pills and end his misery -- but after a brief trip into "the light," the poor guy is brought back to life ... with powers.
Basically our guy can A) hear voices through electronic equipment, B) see glowing halos that surround the soon-to-be-dead, and C) rescue a few of those poor souls from an unpleasant demise. On top of that poor Joe (Abe Dale, actually) has to contend with some unexpected deaths AND a mystery that gradually reveals itself: Maybe that mad gunman wasn't so insane after all! With the help of a plucky young nurse (that'd be Ms. Sackhoff), good ol' Abe is intent on getting to the meat of the matter. Plus he saves a few lives along the way, which is pretty cool of him. Or so he thinks!
For all its conventional trappings and fairly predictable outcomes, there's still a comfortably entertaining little thriller here. Director Patrick Lussier, who got his start as an editor for Wes Craven and has gone on to churn out some fairly amusing schlock flicks, delivers his best-looking movie so far, and the screenplay by first-timer Patrick Venne (he also did a fairly solid episode of Masters of Horror called Pelts) moves along at an appreciably brisk clip. Sure, a few of the otherworldly diversions come off as a little trite and obvious, but the movie contains more than enough twists and turns to keep one watching. Plus those sci-fi geeks I mentioned earlier will undoubtedly appreciate the work of the two leads. Although I still think he works best with slightly funnier material, Nathan Fillion acquits himself quite well as a shell-shocked everyman who finds himself wedged into some really weird situations. Ms. Sackhoff might not have as much screen time as the Battlestar fans might hope for, but she smiles a lot in White Noise 2, which is cool because A) this death-centric movie really needs a few light notes, and B) Sackhoff has a great smile that she doesn't get to use all that often on Galactica.
All in all, it's a (slightly) above-average feature-length Twilight Zone tale, complete with a few cheap jolts, a handful of clever ideas, and just enough energy and creativity to make it across the finish line. It probably wasn't all that difficult to improve upon the first White Noise (which, aside from Keaton's performance, is a freakin' yawn factory), but it's nice to know the sequel-makers gave it some obvious effort. Whether or not this flick actually qualifies as a "true" sequel is your call, but it's most certainly a lot more fun than the first one.
Universal delivers the film in a very fine anamorphic widescreen transfer, with audio presented in English or Spanish 5.1 Digital. Extras include a block of (wisely) deleted scenes, a standard-yet-watchable making-of piece, a section about some real-life near-death survivors, and an amusing trip through a creepy hospital location with Fillion and one of the production assistants.