Disturbingly good "Disturbia"

April 20, 2007, midnight | By Gus Woods | 13 years, 7 months ago

Teen rehash of "Rear Window" better than expected

Ever wonder what would have happened in "Rear Window" if Jimmy Stewart had been a rebellious 21st century adolescent with more hand-held gadgets than Steve Jobs? "Disturbia" seeks to answer that question, starring Shia LeBeouf ("Holes") as a teen whose assault on his Spanish teacher gets him under house arrest. Throw in a creepy neighbor, a vulnerable mother, a goofball friend and an attractive girl-next-door and this movie has all that is needed for a satisfying teen thriller.

The misunderstood protagonist, Kale (LaBeouf), is fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet that tips the police whenever he steps off his property. In their boredom, Kale and his visiting friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) take to spying on the neighbors, especially the pretty neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer) as she swims angelically in her swimming pool.

The film's suspense builds as an odd romance blossoms between Kale and Ashley while another neighbor Mr. Turner (David Morse) is suspected of being a predatory serial killer. Kale and Ashley have a number of nonviolent but hair-raising encounters with Mr. Turner meanwhile, unfortunately for Kale's mother, Julie (Carrie Anne Moss), becomes overly friendly with the villain.

While the plot is clearly drawn from Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film, "Rear Window," other scenes pay homage to other famous thrillers, like the "Silence of the Lambs." "Disturbia" successfully combines both conventional elements with unpredictable and, sometimes, comedic gags.

"Disturbia" also incorporates cinematographic techniques blatantly pilfered from other classic thrillers, but the techniques were used well. Showing, but not showing, a crime being committed is reminiscent of Hitchcock's 1943 film "Shadow of a Doubt." The borrowed techniques used in "Disturbia" were employed well, a tribute to Hitchcock and other masters of suspense.

LaBeouf and Yoo are an ideal duo. LaBeouf plays a constantly annoyed, slightly contemplative, loner while Yoo is a featherbrained sidekick who is always on hand to make light of LaBeouf's situation. Morse's understated and menacing performance is an ideal fit for the film's villain, a Buffalo Bill-like creep. The contrast between LaBeouf and Yoo's loud and occasionally obnoxious performances with Morse's whispering performance made the villain stranger and more mysterious.

Other characters were less appealing, not because of their acting, but because of the character development. Roemer's performance of the teasing Ashley is effective, but her character is at times frustratingly cynical. At one point she is subtly harassed and threatened by the villainous Mr. Turner but later dismisses his advance as typical "guy" behavior. Kale's concerned mother is, of course, painfully naive, becoming friendly with the seemingly murderous neighbor.

The movie's greatest strength is its unpretentiousness. The film doesn't take itself too seriously, as if the filmmakers knew that they were making a B-movie thriller all along.

The movie's trailers and title misrepresent the actual film in many ways. The movie feels like a comedic teen-movie rather than a clichéd suburban satire or a grisly psychological thriller. The film's violence and gore is minimal until the end; there isn't an overabundance of plot-twists.

Viewers shouldn't too expect too much, but they shouldn't expect too little either.

"Disturbia" (104 minutes) is rated PG-13 on appeal for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality.

Gus Woods. William "Gus" Woods is a junior who enjoys, far more than anything else, tiddlywinks tournaments and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" re-runs. He is a great fan of any and all music and enjoys playing the piano in his spare time. He belongs, literally belongs, … More »

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