Review: “Disturbia”

A post-modern, teenager-oriented, B-movie remake of the Hitchcock classic “Rear Window” it may be, but whilst “Disturbia” plays it safe and conventional in every way – it still somehow manages to entertain and engage for much of its run time.

The result is much like co-writer Carl Ellsworth’s last effort, “Red Eye,” which yielded a slick, efficient and modest thriller out of the confined spaces of a passenger jet. Here, the action is more expansive, but still restricted primarily to two houses and the street between them. In the film a young man named Kale (Shia LaBeouf) has become a juvenile delinquent after the death of his father in a brutal car accident the year before.

His latest indiscretion, attacking the Spanish teacher who berated him, has led him to undergo three months of house arrest. With TV and Net access cut off, the bored Kale tries to make up his own entertainment – including watching the local neighbourhood and the pretty girl next door (Sarah Roemer). Something is amiss however, one of his neighbours (David Morse) is up to no good and ultimately the paranoia makes Kale begin to believe that the man is the serial killer that has been reported in the news.

The narrative plays almost like Film School 101 in its predictability – aiming the projects squarely at the teen market with its focus almost entirely on the three kids (hero, love interest, sidekick). Adults are painted by the numbers such as the overworked harassing mother, the disbelieving cop with a grudge (but ultimately good heart), and the sinister neighbour.

In some ways though, it’s a relief the movie never tries to throw in ludicrous twists – instead revealing from the get go who’s good, bad, and pretty much how it’ll all pan out. It throws in lots of references that’ll keep the teen market happy – iPods everywhere, a quite effective suspense scene perfectly suited for the YouTube generation, geek appeal with a tech friend and the average guy, and a bikini babe next door into topless yoga and swimming (it’s PG-13 so it’s all restricted to sideboobs and wet bikinis).

Sound dull? Surprisingly not. Director DJ Caruso keeping things tight and simple, using a mix of old school conventions and modern tech to keep the pace rocketing along. The self-aware, and at times quite shrewd script knows it’ll never beat something like “Rear Window” in terms of quality, so instead plays more to an audience’s more base instincts – frequently regurgitating thrills for the youngsters, black comedy for the adults, a smart heroinne for the girls, and a sympathetic Scooby gang of heroes indulging the paranoid voyeur in all of us without ever condemning us for it.

Helping too are strong performances from the cast. LaBeouf plays a dangerously stubborn and unsympathetic character who we quickly come to empathise with. His assertiveness, curiosity and general geekiness makes him come off as somewhat impulsive but never brash or arrogant. As his stoner sidekick, Yoo does a performance that would make Harold and Kumar proud, whilst Roemer is a surprisingly strong love interest/lust object. Moss and Morse may be stuck with cliched rote roles, but they do them well nonetheless.

Caruso indulges a little too much in his worshipping of Roemer’s body – one slow-mo pool scene in particular drags on so long you wouldn’t be surprised if LaBeouf’s character had been whacking off and already finished by the time it’s over. Same with the haunted house theatrics in the end which turns Morse’s basement into a gargantuan over-the-top chamber of horrors resembling Disneyland’s haunted mansion ride far more than the tight, dirty confines of real cellars.

There’s quite obvious parallels and issues to be drawn up from this about privacy and domestic terrorism (ala “Arlington Road”) but the film avoids the issue in its attempts to not offend everyone. It’s a film that wears its easy-going appeal on its sleeve. The action is tense and well filmed, the production and visuals much richer in texture and quality than you’d think for a film of this type, and the tone remains tight and fast throughout. There’s no real depth here of any kind to be sure, no real originality either, but as comfort food goes its quite tasty and goes down very easily.