There are some stories that transcend the test of time. Something about these tales strikes a cord with people on a very human level and can be retold generation after generation. Many films are simple remakes or classic, often hidden with the term "re-imagining" they are pale shadows of the original. When I heard about a film of a teenage boy confined to his room, turning to peaking in on his neighbors and witnessing a murder, it sounded familiar. As a long time fan of classic cinema my mind went immediately to the Alfred Hitchcock gem, ‘Rear Window’. But as previously mentioned some stories are so human that they demand to be revisited every generation or so. This is the case here. While ‘Disturbia’ has many similarities to ‘Rear Window’ the film can and does stand on its own. In order to get the most out of what this film has to offer you have to refrain from making constant comparisons in factors like style and details and focus instead on how well the story was told. Director D.J. Caruso weaves a tale here that is able to hold the audience. While targeted at the more youthful demographic it is a nice departure from the typical flick presented to young people. This is not a classic but it is solid entertainment.
Kale (Shia LaBeouf) is a pretty normal teenager; some might describe him as a ‘nice kid’. While on the way home from a father-son fishing trip they get into a traffic accident that results in the death of dad. Like many teenagers Kale internalizes his tumultuous emotions until one day something causes them to erupt. While in his Junior High School Spanish class Kale’s teacher makes a tasteless remark about Kale’s late father. Without thinking, Kale lashes out and punches the teacher in the face. This leads to a court appearance and a sentence of three months house arrest. To enforce the judgment Kale is forced to wear an ankle monitor. This device limits his universe to a mere 100 feet from the control panel. His world is defined by string and sports equipment that he uses to mark the 100 foot limit. To make matters worse his mother, Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss), adds her own punishment, removal of his cable television and X-Box. Kale soon gets bored with only his iPod, the net and an endless stream of peanut butter sandwiches. It’s not that mom is trying to be mean; she is working two jobs to keep the family afloat and is worried about the recent actions of her son. Now it’s not all that bad for Kale having so much time on his hands. He discovers a pair of binoculars and begins on a little stint of voyeurism. There are the usual neighborhood antics to keep Kale amused; the husband timing his return for when his wife is away but the maid is not and the coming and goings of people during the day. One bright spot for Kale is the teenaged daughter of his new neighbor, Ashley (Sarah Roemer). She has the habit of wearing very tiny bikinis much to the delight of the housebound Kale. He also has numerous visits from his quirky best friend, Ronnie (Aaron Yoo).
Things quickly turn sinister when Kale hears a news story on television. A young woman has disappeared and the suspect allegedly drives a blue sixties Ford Mustang with a dent in the side. He is also believed to have just moved into the area from Texas. When Kale spies his neighbor, Mr. Turner (David Morse), backing a car of that description into his garage the lad begins to think the worse. Although skeptical at first it isn’t long before Kale pulls Ashley and Ronnie into his conspiracy theory. The more mobile kids begin to snoop around Turner’s car and think they found a body wrapped in plastic. When the police are called in it is only a deer that Turner hit. This rational explanation does not deter the teen sleuths at all. They continue to try to find proof that Turner is in fact a serial killer.
As previously mentioned here this story is one that employs themes that can be explored uniquely for each generation. One is claustrophobia can occur even if confined spaces are not involved. Here Kale feels the emotional walls closing in. Unlike someone confined to home a couple of decades ago there is television, the internet and other means of connecting with the outside world. Kale is not so much physically limited as he is emotionally. Being restricted to suburbia is hardly a harsh sentence but for a teenager it may as well be solitary confinement. The fact that Kale can get in serious trouble by just stepping over a string is a heavy weight for him. When a mind is denied the usual stimulation, such as video games for a teen, it begins to look for its own excitement. This may be the start of Kale’s suspicions concerning his neighbor but as the old saying goes ‘are you paranoid if they really are after you?’ D.J. Caruso is an experienced director with episodes of the great series, "The Shield" to his credit. He has also worked with some of the best actors around in his films ‘Salton Sea’ and ‘Two for the Money’. Here he builds the plot slowly, organically. The suspense is not forced but is grown in a satisfying fashion. He provides a platform for his actors and guides them in their performances instead of micro-managing. Caruso has an eye for setting the stage. He nails the routine of suburbia with hidden activities lying just beneath the surface.
One of the newest A-List actors on the scene today is Shia LaBeouf. From a long resume of television appearances to his work with Disney on ‘Even Stevens’ he is becoming one of the most sought after actors around. Here he has a control to his performance that is amazing considering his young age. He takes Kale on a journey from loving son through to troubled teen and ultimately to a young man who has to defend his friends and family. LaBeouf gives a solid performance that will help you overlook the flaws in the overly predictable script. Like many young actresses Sarah Roemer is beautiful. She also possesses a natural ability for acting. She is able to move beyond the typical teen driven role of eye candy by making Ashley a bright, capable girl. Carrie-Anne Moss has moved past her action packed role in the Matrix to give a standard performance as Mom. Almost wasted here is David Morse. His part is too predictable and does not allow the audience any doubt as to who he actually is. Morse is capable of far better and does give his character the best he can under the circumstances.
Dreamworks Home Entertainment does a very good job of bringing this film to DVD. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video provides a brilliant color palette with excellent contrast. The Dolby 5.1 audio is never overwhelming but makes great use of all the speakers. The extras really shine here giving the involved watcher a lot of material after they have watched the film. The commentary track features Caruso, LaBeouf and Roemer. They obviously had a lot of fun making the flick as is evident by their round table comments. A pleasant surprise is how well the two young stars do in explaining their motivations and the process of the filming. Of course there is the required making of featurette that does come off better than most teen flicks have. There are a few deleted scenes, a blooper reel and some out takes to show some of what went on during filming. There is also a homage to the master, Alfred Hitchcock that gives credit where credit is due. Round off things is a music video, "Don't Make Me Wait" by This World Fair and an interactive trivia quiz. In all this is a worthy film to watch and far better than most teen flicks.