Netflix’s White Noise Works Better as Psychedelic Horror

In Netflix’s White Noise, Adam Driver’s Jack tries to protect his family amid a pandemic, but the film loses steam by ignoring its horror elements.

The following contains spoilers for White Noise, now streaming on Netflix.

In Netflix’s White NoiseAdam Driver’s Jack takes his family on a kooky trek, hoping they can evade the toxic cloud surrounding their suburbs after a train crash. They think the chemicals will make the atmosphere deadly, creating a sense of paranoia, fear and uncertainty as the government tries to evacuate the area. That leads to a pandemic-like setting, mentally damaging Jack and his wife, Babette/Baba (Greta Gerwig), as they both have a lingering anxiety regarding death. However, while White Noise Director Noah Baumbach does the concept of a whimsical tribe cracking under pressure well, this film would have worked much better as a psychedelic horror.

White Noise’s Ghost Man Is Horrifying

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>White-Noise

Early on, Jack dreams of a person coming into his sheets, rising up like a ghost and scaring him. He even imagines the sheets suffocating him, creating a spate of night terrors that feels stripped from the minds of Stephen King or M. Night Shyalaman. It’s clearly a psychological fracture, with Jack hallucinating this person in the grocery store and at other junctures, worrying him if he can survive and providing for his kids.

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Initially, it’s a metaphor for him thinking Baba is doing drugs, hiding that she’s an addict from her family. But by the final act, it’s revealed part of this manifesting is him feeling insecure, jealous and wondering if Baba’s having an affair. Either way, the morose scenes, the dimly-lit settings and the constant obscuring of this “ghoul” creates a totally different mood and atmosphere, to the point where it’s like a different movie at times.

White Noise’s toxic cloud is demonic

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>White Noise has a scary apocalyptic cloud

Another horrific sequence is when the family sees the poisonous cloud in its full gory on the interstate. It approaches like a monster, with purple and red hues, not to mention lightning striking. It’s reminiscent of the apocalypse in properties like Stranger Things or something pulled out of comic book movies. The way the family steps out in shock and horror builds the vibe of them losing their minds by coming across a “monster” that they can’t avoid.

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Pivoting more on this beast, especially when Jack’s getting tested for exposure, or actually seeing some folks dying due to contamination, would have made the family being afraid resonate more. It would also have viewers a lot more emotionally attached, as the movie makes a statement on the panic of COVID-19 and how invisible enemies work. In the process, it’d have frayed the audience in a trippy manner, leaving them guessing what’s real, what’s not and what the family’s exaggerating as they try to unearth the truth.

Instead, by shuffling from these moments of fright to the kooky family making jokes, it feels like Baumbach is just remixing the Marriage Story movie he did in 2019 with Driver and Scarlett Johansson. And that squanders this film’s potential to show why Jack and his family were petrified and making bad decisions due to entities they considered tangible amid the end of days.

To see the movie fail to grasp its tone, White Noise is now streaming on Netflix.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo