Wednesday, April 18, 2007


DISTURBIA (D.J. Caruso, 2007)

A year after his father is killed in a car accident, Kale (Shia LaBeouf) still exhibits the emotional bruises of his own brush with death. In DISTURBIA the bright, easygoing teenager is now sullen and easily provoked. When his Spanish teacher chastizes him, Kale slugs him in front of the rest of the class. Since he's still a minor, he catches a break from the judge and is sentenced to three months of house arrest for the summer.

Considering the wealth of home entertainment options, there could be worse ways to be punished. His mom Julie (Carrie-Ann Moss) knows this, so she blocks access to XBox Live and iTunes and snips the power cord on the TV in Kale's room. With all the time in the world on his hands and an electronic leash limiting him to no farther than one hundred yards from his kitchen, Kale has to find other ways to spend his time.

He realizes that a pair of binoculars gives him plenty to look at in his subdivision, especially the pretty girl who moves in next door. Ashley (Sarah Roemer) catches Kale and his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) spying on her, but rather than raise a fuss, she joins in with their neighborhood watch.

Reports of a missing girl and the possibility of the case's connection to old, unsolved Texas serial killings dominate local news. Kale notices that Mr. Turner (David Morse) drives a classic car matching the suspect vehicle's description, so he, Ashley, and Ronnie set up a stakeout of this mysterious man.

DISTURBIA plays reasonably well as a junior version of REAR WINDOW. The teen movie form comfortably adapts to the themes of isolation and ineffectualness. (Aside from referencing reality TV, it doesn't do much with Hitchcock's exploration of voyeurism.) Kale's testing of literal boundaries provides amusing commentary on teenage rebelliousness while dispensing key information about where he can go. Kale, Ronnie, and Ashley's video monitoring seems like mostly harmless mischief kids get into when there are rumors about one unusual resident in the neighborhood.

Director D.J. Caruso takes time to unfold suspicions about Mr. Turner's neighborly activities, although this is a case where the film would have benefited from cutting to the chase sooner. Caruso could have afforded to be more patient if he sustained stronger senses of claustrophobia and helplessness. Kale occupies a large home, has plenty of mobility, and can summon the police on a moment's notice, even if they'll initially be searching for him. These factors remove a significant part of the threat and the experience of the walls closing in on Kale.

Morse displays a delicious flair for menace. His confrontation of Ashley, who was following him around a hardware store, is creepy without him doing anything that might get him in hot water. The uneasy air about Mr. Turner is almost enough to compensate for the overblown showdown that sends DISTURBIA into a tailspin.

With the burden of inevitable comparisons to Hitchcock's masterpiece upon it, DISTURBIA carves out its own modest spot as a decent thriller until caving in to the demand for a big finish. Even when he doesn't quite get suspenseful scenes to work--Caruso blows the section equivalent to Grace Kelly in Raymond Burr's apartment--the director is more adept at suggesting impending trouble than depicting it. This otherwise levelheaded film loses its smarts and its cool in the end.

Grade: C+

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