– Summary –
Director : DJ Caruso
Cast : Shia LaBeouf, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse, Sara Roemer, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Matt Craven, Viola Davis, Rene Rivera.
Year of Release: 2007
Length : 90 minutes
Synopsis: When a teenager is sentenced to three months house detention, he spends his time spying on his neighbours. He grows suspicious, however, when one of his neighbours gives hints that he could be a wanted serial killer.
Review : Taut, exciting teen-thriller sees a breakout performance from star LaBeouf, and ratchets up the tension throughout. Well made, and worth a look.
Absorbing, well paced and utterly terrifying teen-thriller film about a young man under house arrest managing to stumble upon the fact that he possibly lives next door to a serial killer. Starring newcomer Shia Lebeouf as Kale, the young man in question, Disturbia plays on the premise of a Hitchcockian Rear Window narrative and amps it up with a modern slant.
Kale, who has slid well off the rails after the death of his father in a car crash, punches a teacher, and is sentenced by a judge to 3 months home detention. With restrictive his leg band in place, and the limits of his allowed roaming not curtailed (he cannot venture more than 100 yards from the GPS base signal) he mopes about the house, much to the exasperation of his mother (The Matrix Trilogy’s Carrie-Anne Moss). Kale is a disturbed young man, the loss of his father sending him into deep depression and moodiness, which it is hoped he’ll snap out of. When he’s placed under house arrest, his mother, frustrated at his inability to get over himself, disconnects his link to the outside world: iTunes, X-Box 360, all out of his reach. With no way of contacting his life outside, Kale resorts to watching (read: perving) on his neighbors throughout the course of his confinement.
One particular object of his watching is his new neighbour, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), with his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) from his bedroom with binoculars. Ashely notices, and comes over to Kales house, and they strike up a relationship built on mutual attraction. About the same time, Kale finds out that his other neighbour, Robert Turner (David Morse, in spooky form) may actually be a serial killer, after the man returns from a drive with a dented front fender that Kale believes to be the result of a recent hit-run, which was reported on the news. As Kale and Ronnie begin to investigate, the finger of blame and murder begins to point almost unswervingly at Turner, and both Kale and Ronnie engage in some illicit activity to try and find out the truth.
Believed crazy by both his mother and the police (who, it must be said, have what appears to be a grudge against him), Kale must battle both the law and Turner, who behaves in increasingly bizarre and desperate ways to cover something up. Disturbia is a fine example of the teen-thriller genre, made popular in recent times by films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, as well as Urban Legend, Teaching Mrs Tingle, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among others. However, unlike those films, Disturbia is thriller-lite, with a lack of true gore to keep even the most discerning viewer glued to the screen. It’s not a horror film, as I’d imagined, but rather a tense, disturbing look into what you could, maybe, find out if you watch your neighbors long enough. LaBeouf plays the role very well, his mannerisms and sketchy vocal technique perfectly capturing the incessant ramblings of today’s modern teens. He spouts dialogue like a pro, his verbosity only matched by his ability to convey emotions on his face without words, an ability many actors, especially young ones, lack today. That said, when the crap hits the fan, LaBeouf is superb.
Roemer is fabulously coquettish as Ashley, although the role is hardly a stretch for an actress save for screaming, running, showing bits of skin in a bikini. Yoo, meanwhile, is comedically great as Kales best friend Ronnie, and while perhaps a little screechy for me, his performance is dead on hilarious. There’s a moment in the film, where you fear for his life, and he plays the part beautifully, allowing the audience to truly imagine his untimely demise, and you feel heartbroken. Carrie-Ann Moss does a good job as Kales mother, although, again, it’s not a real stretch for her as an actress.
Ultimately, though, the film relies on the performance of it’s key villain, this time round a magnificent David Morse, who scowls and prowls the edges of the film like a hungry coyote. He’s all menace and deadly confidence, confronting Ashley in a carpark to subtly tell her not to go poking around in business that’s not hers, and eventually convincing even the police that he’s harmless. Morse has always played a good bad guy, in films like 21 Blocks, Bait, and even in The Rock; his bad-ass attitude is always somewhat frightening due, I think, to his bulk. He’s a frighteningly solid man, and that comes across on screen: it’s like a Panzer tank chasing a Fiat by the end sequence, with Morse pursuing LaBeouf through his house, intent on grievous bodily harm.
Director D J Caruso, who helmed previous films such as Taking Lives (a very average film with Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke) and The Salton Sea, seems fairly adept at creating tension with the camera, although I thought the handheld, shaky-cam moments often distracted from an otherwise fine cinematic palette. Caruso has a great feel for the genre, and his followup film Eagle Eye (again starring Shia LaBeouf) is filled with the same steady hand at work. With Disturbia, he’s developed the characters enough for us to really care about their fate, even with the audience expectation that in a thriller genre picture like this, most characters are merely fodder for the Killer to slaughter at various moments of the film. Here, though, that’s not the primary motivation. Instead, Caruso has a slow, decidedly methodical build-up in the tension, red herrings aplenty, and a wonderful use of his cast and camera to keep the audience guessing. It’s a smart thriller, regardless of it’s somewhat plagiarized storyline. Rear Window, that great Alfred Hitchcock film, is the most obvious film Disturbia is based upon, although Kale is not disabled (as Jimmy Stewart was in Hitchcock’s film), he’s merely restricted. This allows for a more physical role (and LaBeouf is indeed quite physical here) from the star, and a more violent, more tense, final act develops.
Disturbia lacks a real killer twist, however, which would have allowed the film to transcend it B-grade roots to full scale classic status. As it is, the ending of the film is a perfunctory, no-nonsense affair, with a traditional climactic showdown, and resolution, before the happy-ever-after ending. Honestly, I would have preferred a killer-lives-after-death twist (such as Scream’s great moment where the killer jumps up and scares the crap out of the audience!) to finish the film off, but, sadly, it doesn’t eventuate. However, the film is a well made, solidly performed and presented piece of escapist thriller fiction: and for those looking for a night of scares in front of the box, then this film will fill in the gap quite nicely.