Disturbia (2007)

“He can feel us watching.”

It’s an interesting choice for a thriller to open up in a state of calm, giving us a sense of stability before everything goes topsy-turvy. Disturbia does just that. The teenager Kale (Shia LaBeouf) is fly-fishing waters with his dad Daniel Brecht (Matt Craven), a successful writer. They swig soda from glass bottles, enjoy father-son banter, and completely drain the river with their hooks and their prowess. It’s picturesque, the kind of memory you’d nestle inside a frame. But then the glass shatters.

Kale loses his dad in an accident, shattering the temperamental young man into a shell of his former self. His mom Julie (Carrie-Ann Moss) is left to pick up the pieces and reassemble them on her own, as well as having to play the unlikable role of the disciplinarian for her newly listless son. Kale sleeps his way through the end of the school year, lashes out and an assault charge leads to the law brandishing him with an ankle monitor. There could have certainly been worse outcomes, but to Kale, nothing seems quite as dreadful as being sentenced to house arrest in such an empty home. And so he peeks out the windows.

To the rescue is Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), Kale’s best and maybe only close friend. Kale has gone rather stir-crazy, running around the house like a sugar-filled Nostradamus to show Ronnie what and when his neighbors do things. Mr. Turner (David Morse) just moved in close by and curiously mows his grass everyday. Boys across the way sneakily watch dirty movies. There’s a cheating spouse, a runaway child, and the new girl next door. She’s Ashley (Sarah Roemer), and her daily dip in the pool is like fuel for the horny teen boys creeping on her through the window. That she sees them and immediately comes over to confront them sets her apart. Their reaction is reminiscent of those during the big moment in Weird Science, expect here it’s by way of nature, and Ashley is intrigued to get in on the investigation Kale has concocted. A woman has gone missing and his eyes have him convinced that the killer is the man on the other side of the fence.

There’s an an energy and a lively spirit to Disturbia that gets somewhat lost the deeper it goes into the realm of horror. And then there’s the horrible final 10-15 minutes, which serve as the bitter cherry plopped on top of an otherwise sweet sundae. A few carefully  sprinkled details might have made it better. There’s really no getting around just how unprompted and ridiculous the ending is, yet in the same vein it’s hard to ignore how enthralling Disturbia is as a time-pressed portrait of voyeuristic entertainment for the vast majority of its run time. It’s a microcosm of the millennial way of thinking and it’s a teen sleuth picture that’s upgraded from analog to digital.

Disturbia takes the body of Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window into the car garage and asks the Dr. Frankenstein mechanics to install some inorganic updates. Bigger engine, more gadgets, a flashier paint job. It’s way gaudier and clunkier, yet somehow appropriate and representative of the time in which it takes place. And why Disturbia works more often than not is because director D.J. Caruso and his team of writers – helped out by a very game cast – don’t look to do a shot for shot remake of Rear Window in a modern setting; this isn’t the trainwreck that was Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho. Caruso uses the story and the camera’s focus to show us Rear Window through a teen’s hungry gaze, with results that are as scintillating, arousing, and as uneven as you’d come to expect from somebody trying to figure things out in this awkward, empowering, paranoid part of growing up.

“Where else are you gonna get this kind of entertainment?”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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