Memo to the estate of Alfred Hitchcock: if the producers of Disturbia haven’t already agreed to share the proceeds of their flick, then by all means approach them for royalties. Disturbia is Hitchcock’s Rear Window transposed from Eisenhower-era Manhattan to the leafy confines of contemporary, Generation Z suburbia. Instead of Jimmy Stewart with his leg in a cast, it stars Shia LaBeouf with an electronic bracelet around his ankle. He has been sentenced to house arrest by the juvenile court. After mom cancels his Xbox and iTunes, he can find nothing better to do than spy on the neighbors through his binoculars. Guess what? He begins to suspect one of them is a murderer.
Our protagonist, Kale (LaBeouf), is just shy of 18, a good kid in trouble following the sudden death of his dad. His no-nonsense mom (a post-Matrix Carrie-Anne Moss) fills the role played in Rear Window by Thelma Ritter, albeit mom lacks her predecessor’s street smarts. Disturbia’s voyeuristic shut-in doesn’t enter the story with his own Grace Kelly but, despite being a dork, wins the affection of the new girl next door, curvaceous and cogent Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who rises each morning from her swimming pool like a teenage Aphrodite. “That’s either the creepiest or the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard,” she responds when Kale admits he’s been peeping at her through binoculars. And then they kiss.
It would be all too easy to point out Disturbia’s flaws—its gape-mouthed horny boy sensibility, its failure to sustain suspense for more than a few moments, its “Don’t go in there!” teensploitation plot twists, its pervasive smarminess. Originality may be an overrated concept, so let’s cut Disturbia some slack for dressing a familiar story in today’s t-shirts and jeans.
What’s interesting about Disturbia is its depiction of evil and glimmer of insight into the decline of privacy. The suspicious neighbor, Turner (David Morse), is memorable for his appearance of blandness. He’s a graying Baby Boomer with an earring and a vintage Mustang (a few years ago he would have sported a pony tail, but that cliché has run its course). In the background are headlines about a missing girl; Turner appears to fit the media’s murky description of a suspect. He’s a single man trolling the clubs for much younger women. As Kale learns through his spyglass, they seem to recoil at some point from his embrace. With his show of easy-going tolerance, one imagines Turner proffering New Age nostrums for pickup lines.
Kale’s suspicion of Turner takes on few if any aspects of generational conflict. After all, Kale had a great relationship with dad, who was Turner’s age. And his messy bedroom is plastered with posters of the Doors, the Clash and the Stooges, bands whose run ended long before Kale’s conception.
Where Jimmy Stewart relied only on binoculars and the willing assistance of his snoopy friends, Kale, his East Asian buddy Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and Ashley track their quarry with camera-equipped cell phones, sending back grainy video as they probe the lair of their suburban Bluebeard. It’s a surveillance society where everyone, not just Big Brother, can play. But as Turner makes clear in one of his mildly insinuating threats, he can watch the watchers, too.
DISTURBIA ( * * ½ )
Directed by D.J. Caruso • Starring Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer and David Morse • PG-13, 104 min • At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.