That Disturbia is being compared to Hitchcock’s Rear Window goes without saying. I guess you just can’t have a housebound Peeping Tom spying on his neighbors without that comparison, but it becomes clear very early on that Disturbia doesn’t have Hitchcockian aspirations. This is a teen-friendly thriller beginning to end, and on that level it gets the job done. Besides, the movie has way more in common, in terms of actual execution, with 1984’s Body Double and 1989’s The ‘burbs than anything else.
Up-and-comer Shia LaBeouf is Kale, a teen who has just been sentenced to three months house arrest after giving his Spanish teacher a wicked shiner. If you ask me, the teacher had it coming; what kind of educator makes a crack about a student’s deceased father? Anyways, what initially starts out as a vacation quickly turns to incredible boredom, especially after his mother, Julie (Moss), shuts down his Xbox and iTunes. Reduced to peering out the window with his binoculars, Kale turns his attention to two people: a hot blonde who has just moved in across the way, Ashley (Roemer), and the creepy guy next door, Mr. Turner (Morse). Word is all over the news that a serial killer is on the loose, and Turner’s activities eerily match snippets of information provided. Convinced that Turner is the killer, Kale teams up with Ashley and a good friend Ronnie (Yoo) to set up surveillance and catch him in the act.
Seemingly standard elements come together to produce an above-average result. Director D.J. Caruso, who has helmed forgettable fare such as Taking Lives and Two for the Money, strikes all the right keys as the picture makes its transition from comedy to romance to thriller. The film never takes itself that seriously, which helps to win over the audience. When things do get dark, Caruso finds some clever ways to mess with us and get some genuine jump scares. The finale, which does circle the cliché wagon, is nevertheless a solid piece of suspense. A scene in which Turner confronts Ashley in a parking garage is the film’s centerpiece and turning point.
Moving past the Disney Channel and various sidekick roles, Shia LaBeouf has established himself, alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as one of the most promising young male talents in the industry. His portrayal of Kale is convincing and energetic, but never over-played. When Kale gets agitated, we do too. Sarah Roemer and Aaron Yoo make for amusing companions, and Yoo could easily pull off a part in the next Harold and Kumar movie. The busy, yet always under-appreciated, David Morse is superb in a role that he can probably do in his sleep these days. With a near-trademarked cold stare and a polite side that can be turned on at any given moment, he’s a menacing figure.
The opportunity to overly-dissect Disturbia is certainly there, as it does so closely resemble the pinnacle of neighborhood snoop thrillers. It’d be best to skip that and just appreciate Disturbia for what it is: a slick techno-thriller that has a little something for everybody. With a new gore fest being released on a near-weekly basis these days, it’s nice to see a thriller come down the pike that gets under your skin the old-fashioned way: without showing you much of anything.
Length: 104 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 on appeal for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality.
Theatrical Release: April 13, 2007
Directed by: D.J. Caruso
Written by: Christopher B. Landon & Carl Ellsworth.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie Anne Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo