Reviewed by: The Exile

More than just a terrific title, Disturbia is a teen-scream thriller that strains for higher ground. A classic example of the redemptive power of great acting, the movie harnesses standard genre clichés, serviceable writing and some really nifty camerawork, then turns them over to performers who know exactly how to work them. The result is one of the few 15 movies that doesn’t condescend to its audience - it assumes teenagers are as intelligent as they are horny.

The movie’s tagline - "Every killer lives next door to someone’"- may get kids into the cinema, but Disturbia aims wider than its seven-word come-on. An updated and dumbed-down version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic, Rear Window, the movie is a study of the boredom and voyeurism of suburban life, especially teenage life. (At times, the movie seems torn between its thriller vibe and a more contemplative tone.) In Rear Window, a broken leg keeps Jimmy Stewart spying through his bedroom window; in Disturbia, it’s a GPS ankle bracelet that restrains a traumatised teen named Kale (Shia LaBeouf), placed under a three-month house arrest for decking his Spanish teacher.

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Smarter than a kid named after a vegetable has any right to be, Kale quickly becomes bored with his confinement and the gentle nagging of his hardworking mom (Carrie-Ann Moss, unrecognisable when divested of Trinity’s neoprene bodysuit). Turning his attention outdoors, he begins to spy on Ashley (newcomer Sarah Roemer), the nubile young hottie recently moved in next door. Then one night he sees the man across the street, Mr Turner (a typically creepy David Morse), appear to terrorize a young woman. Concurrent TV news reports of abducted women stoke Kale’s suspicions and he becomes convinced his neighbor is a very bad man indeed.

Directed by D J Caruso (The Salton Sea) and co-writen by Carl Ellsworth, who scripted the highly effective airborne thriller, Red Eye, Disturbia would have been stronger had the filmmakers dived more deeply into the psychological roots of Kale’s voyeurism and paranoia. But the casting of Morse (who broke three fingers during filming) leaves us in no doubt of the film’s outcome and of Kale’s redemption. Despite this predictability, Disturbia offers much to enjoy, including a terrific performance from relative newcomer Aaron Yoo as Kale’s hyperactive best friend, Ronnie. More than just the goofy sidekick, Yoo has a nervy charm that transcends his character’s often-rote dialogue.

Slickly shot by Dutch cinematographer Rogier Stoffers (School Of Rock), Disturbia looks terrific and moves with the fluidity and energy of a much classier picture. Caruso, who also directed some of the best early episodes of The Shield, has figured out how to maneuver the camera in tight spaces, creating disorientation without confusion. Filling his film with the accoutrements of teen life - mobile phones, iPods, Xboxes - Caruso integrates them into the action in ingenious ways; he knows how to grab a teen’s attention.

Most of the credit for the movie’s success, however, must go to LaBeouf. After last year’s strong double-header in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints and Bobby, the 20-year-old promises to be a major contender for leading-man status in the next few years. Skinny and puppyish, he makes pain-in-the-ass Kale not only sympathetic but likeable - he’s the most appealing peeper since Jimmy Stewart himself. In one incredible scene, he’s discovered by Ashley as he spies on her daily swim and is forced to explain himself. Embarrassed and floundering, he delivers a speech so moving it’s not until later you realise he was saying some of the worst lines in the script.

Formulaic and proud of it, Disturbia is far from art but a near-perfect example of a genre few directors seem to know how to approach. Perhaps the creepiest thing about the movie is its desire to heal Kale’s emotional pain by making him confront a psychopathic killer. Whatever happened to therapy?

Reviewed on: 18 Jul 2007
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A teenager becomes convinced his neighbour is a serial killer.
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Darren Amner ***1/2

Director: D J Caruso

Writer: Christopher B Landon, Carl Ellsworth

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Matt Craven, Viola Davis, Brandon Caruso, Luciano Rauso, Daniel Caruso

Year: 2007

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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