Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: D.J. Caruso

Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Matt Craven

MPAA Rating: PG-13  (for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality)

Running Time: 1:44

Release Date: 4/13/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Disturbia tells the story of a guy who is involved in an accident. Ok. By circumstances outside of his control, he is confined to his abode. Interesting. He begins to become bored and starts spying on his neighbors. Sounds familiar. A pretty blonde shows up. Wait a second. He begins to suspect that one of his neighbors is involved in murder. All right, that's enough. I checked and checked, and in no way does Disturbia acknowledge the fact that it is clearly, indisputably inspired by Rear Window. Wait, I take that back: Somewhere deep in the production notes, one of the producers mentions Hitchcock's masterpiece along with Blowup, Peeping Tom, and The Conversation as films with voyeurs as heroes. Still, no credit is given to Hitchcock, screenwriter John Michael Hayes, or even Cornell Woolrich, who wrote the short story on which Rear Window was based. So that doesn't make this film a remake (it has already been redone twice, in Hong Kong and as a TV movie with Christopher Reeve), but it does make it a blatant rip-off. Strangely enough, though, it works well enough—not enough to ignore the intellectual robbery, but enough to be a derivative but fun little thriller.

Kale (Shia LeBeouf) and his father (Matt Craven) are enjoying a fishing trip and some father/son bonding, but on the way home, a terrible traffic collision occurs (a jarring sequence that gives the film an immediate visceral boost), leaving Kale's father dead at the scene. Time has passed, and Kale is a quiet shadow of himself. When his Spanish teacher (Rene Rivera) makes an offhand remark about his father in response to Kale's lack of participation in class, Kale decks him. He's sentenced to three months of house arrest, given an electronic anklet, and warned that going outside a 100-foot radius of the house will be a violation of his sentence. Not a fun way to spend summer vacation, and his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) makes sure it's punishment by taking away his online X-Box privileges, his TV, and making him clean up after himself. He wastes his time watching his neighbors, including Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who has just moved into the suburbs and caught his eye, and Mr. Turner (David Morse), whose Mustang suspiciously fits the description of one seen at the scene of a kidnapping. Soon Kale, his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), and Ashley are surveilling Turner, trying to catch him in foul play.

Is Turner evil? Naturally, yes, he is. The film leaves little room for doubt about that point, from a creepy scene of him accosting Ashley in a parking garage, taking her keys out of the ignition, and implying that he's also keeping a watch on her and Kale to a moment when the movie switches over to an omniscient third party view of blood splattering on Turner's window and him dragging bag into his garage. David Morse is an actor capable and worth more than playing second, creepy fiddle, but few are more reliable at that thankless job than he. It would seem the film would run out of steam quickly with a decided lack of ambiguity about its villain, but director D.J. Caruso wraps the thrills in a tightly executed package. There are plenty of "gotcha" moments here, as people pop into frame, but they're offset by a genuine sense of minor dread building slowly underneath. The script simplifies Kale's voyeurism into a necessary vice, helping to undercover the seedy deeds of his neighbor and, of course, aiding him in getting the girl. There's a scene where Kale tells Ashley all the things he's noticed about her, and the answer to her response, "That's either the creepiest or the sweetest thing I've ever heard," is probably a bit of both.

Shia LeBeouf handles this clash of character well, and in spite of his pushiness, he's still sympathetic. Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth's screenplay makes Kale smarter than the foolishness of his voyeurism implies. The script's focus, though, is on the high-tech means of Kale's detective work. Using a digital camcorder, a web-cam, cell phones (Ashley changes Kale's to have a silly ring tone that later serves as an antithesis to a tense moment), and hardware specs from the internet, Kale and his cohorts in spying set up a fine, makeshift stakeout, and one scene, employing a three-way conference call as Ashley follows Turner (sending pictures of him from her cell phone) and Ronnie breaks into his car, is the highlight of the modern and accessible ways we can spy on people. Digital video Ronnie culls from inside Turner's house turns out to be vital evidence, leading to a climax that is both conventional and discordant with what's come before it. Suddenly, the film turns into a horror movie, complete with a shop of implied horrors, a delayed and ultimately useless intervening rescue attempt, and a killer who's unstoppable unless the hero really needs him to be stopped (a metal chair has no effect, but the hero's fists temporarily stun him).

The climactic sequence that ends Disturbia is a bit of a letdown after the innovation of Kale's sleuthing, but the script doesn't dumb his character down even in the face of a dumbed-down climax. The film's surprising pleasures dwindle considerably here (although you have to admire the tease of ominously lighting a door and never opening it), but Caruso somehow makes it work in spite of itself. It's more than you could and should expect from something that really feels like cinematic plagiarism.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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