April 13, 2007

Movie Review: Disturbia

Posted in Movies at 10:34 pm by Calico Jack

When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to perch ourselves in the branches of our front-yard juniper tree. Safely hidden from wandering eyes, we would peer at our street through our binoculars and spy on our neighbors’ activities. The brother and sister across the street whose parents pushed them to practice their tennis skills until late in the afternoon; the slightly mysterious older couple who had cars pulling in and out of their driveway at odd hours of the night; the awfully cute girl two doors down with an interest in skateboarding — we watched everybody through the branches of that juniper tree.

But what if one of our neighbors had turned out to be a killer? That is the premise of Disturbia, a teen-oriented thriller directed surprisingly well by D.J. Caruso, who keeps the story briskly focused and never stretches audience incredulity too far. Shia LaBeouf plays Kale, an apathetic juvenile delinquent still suffering from a family tragedy a year prior. After assaulting a teacher who rudely references that tragedy, Kale is sentenced to three months’ house arrest: his entire summer will be spent in the hundred-foot radius of a house monitor. Cross that invisible line, and he will have the cops at his doorstep in short order.

After running through most of his entertainment activities in a single day, Kale enlists the help of his wisecracking best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) to watch the goings-on of their quiet suburban street. The boys quickly realize that there is more than meets the eye, especially with Kale’s neighbor Mr. Turner (David Morse), a reclusive man who seems to fit the profile of a suspected killer. Unfortunately for the boys’ fledgling detective skills, distraction soon arrives in the shape of new neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer), a flirty and sexy archetypal girl next door who seems to enjoy doing little more than swimming in her backyard pool, shopping in her BMW, and doing all of the other things that every teenage boy wishes the cute girl on his street would do. Nevertheless, Ashley soon becomes the second recruit in Kale’s spying posse; and the three teenagers set up a rather impressive surveillance system. What exactly is Mr. Turner doing in his house, and how can Kale prove that he’s living next door to a murderer when he can’t cross his front yard?

No one is ever going to claim that Disturbia is an original concept; much of its inspiration comes from Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window. But Disturbia takes what could have been a laughably derivative film and adds enough of its own elements to stand on its own. It also does several things right which many other thrillers (especially those aimed at a younger crowd) do wrong, never realizing that they lose audience believability rather quickly. First, the technology used in Disturbia feels organically authentic. Kale struggles to log into his iTunes account, Ashley uses her cell phone to surreptitiously take pictures of Mr. Turner, and Ronnie carries a video camera with him as he goes out on a reconnaissance mission. The use of real technology, instead of the highly fantasized gadgets that are shown in many movies and TV shows, works well in maintaining plausibility. I practically cheered when Kale was playing his XBox; instead of mashing buttons and twisting his controller like a spastic monkey, he calmly and methodically moved his analog stick and pushed buttons one at a time. Little touches like that are essential for today’s tech-savvy teens, who know exactly how much cell phones and iPods are capable of.

The second thing that Disturbia does well is letting its characters act like teenagers instead of either miniaturized adults or brainless twerps, since writers often have a hard time getting into the teenage mindset. The teens in Disturbia are neither shallow nor unintelligent, and most of the time they actually make sensible, levelheaded decisions instead of falling prey to the Lemming Syndrome. Being teenagers, they are subject to a fair amount of cockiness and belief that they can handle potential problems by themselves; but to the writers’ credit, Kale, Ashley, and Ronnie behave like real teens. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the three leads are only two or three years older than the characters they portray.

As with most thrillers, there are one or two plot holes, but none are serious enough to warrant an eye-rolling. And while the first two acts of the film are quite engrossing and tightly plotted, the third act starts to unravel a bit under its need to provide the standard thriller fare that had been largely absent in the first hour (much to the film’s credit). Nevertheless, Disturbia is a well-made thriller with more than enough suspense, tension, and even a little bit of humor and romance to hold its audience’s interest. It has been a while since teens have had a decent movie aimed at them, but they should be quite pleased with this one.

B+.

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1 Comment »

  1. Shay said,

    Ooo! Nice review…I’m definitly going to have to see that one


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