Disturbia: Not Your Typical Thriller


For writer Christopher Landon, the genesis of “Disturbia,” a suspense thriller in which upscale suburbia could serve as the hiding place for a serial killer, arose from a visit to his sister’s home deep in the burbs of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.

He says: “Everybody pretty much considers suburbia as something that’s idealistic and beautiful, but it’s always kind of given me the creeps. One night, as I was driving home from my sister’s place, this idea just popped into my heada story about a kid who is stuck in his house and begins to notice bizarre things happening across the way. He eventually comes to suspect that his neighbor is s serial killer.

The seeming calm of suburbia produces “a forest for the trees” effect, in which people go about their lives oblivious to the circumstancesbenevolent of dangeroussurrounding them. “I think that many people who live in these neighborhoods fall into a daily routine and, for the most part, don’t really know their neighbors very well.”

Confined Hero

Kale (Shia LaBeouf), 17, is sentenced to house arrest and must wear an anklet bracelet that will summon the police if he ventures more than 100 feet from his front door.

The upside of having the house to himself all day long quickly wear him, and Kale turns his attention to his next-door neighbors. Kale and best friend Ronnie engage in a game of “I spy, making note of the comings and goings of the residents around them.

Not Your Typical Protags

Says exec-producer Tom Pollock: “We immediately recognized the story’s potential when we first read the script. What makes Kale and his friends interesting is the fact that we recognize them, and they wouldn’t normally be considered your typical heroes. This kid’s under house arrest, his best friend is a little eccentric, and his potential girlfriend is a misunderstood beauty. Set them down in the center of a thriller and we, as audience members, have someone to go along with.”

More than Meets the Eye

Curious patterns emerge and the glossy suburban faade begins to tarnish. Idiosyncrasies come to light and personal affairs are revealed. When Kale’s new neighbor, the beautiful Ashley, discovers his little game, she decides to join in on the spying. But they soon make an unsettling discovery that turns the whole game deadly serious.

Observes Landon: “In general, we don’t really pay close attention to what’s around us, because we’re too busy with our lives. But Kale is now in a position where he really has nothing else to do but notice. And once he starts watching, he begins to see some unsettling things and he has to wonder if it’s just his imagination running wild, or is there more out there than meets the eye”

Troupe of Spying Teenagers

For the writer, one of the thriller’s more compelling aspects is not the usual, “Is he or isn’t he a serial killer” angle, but the personalities of the ragtag troupe of spying teenagers who are at the heart of the story.

“In these types of films, you usually have someone like a Harrison Ford-type chasing down the bad guys. But these kids are not your classic hero yypes. Kale’s just this kid with time on his hands who realizes ‘I have an entire reality TV show happening all around me.’ In the process, he stumbles on a really dark and terrifying character in the show.”

It was Landon’s voyeuristic exploration, combined with a varied stylistic tone that ranges from almost comic to nail-biting, that appealed to Montecito Picture Company producer, Joe Medjuk.

Always Voyeurs

“All films are essentially voyeuristic in some ways,” Medjuk says, “But there are some great ones that are actually about people observing, looking at things. “There’s Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up,’ Michael Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom,’ Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window,’ Coppola’s ‘The Conversation.’ They’re about someone who’s looking at something, sometimes with a camera, sometimes not. And it’s fascinating because it makes us especially aware that we are always voyeurs when we’re in the cinema.

It’s even stronger sensation when you have the point-of-view of someone who is spying on someone else. Kale’s looking at the girl next-door swimming and spying on the guy behind him because he thinks the guy might be a killer. He’s discovering things about the neighbors he probably shouldn’t know. And when people are not aware they’re being watched, they do things differentlybehave differentlyand that’s fascinating.”

Electronic Technology

Thanks to constant advances in contemporary electronic technology, it’s become increasingly easy to watch other peoplestealthier surveillance equipment like DV is augmented with the ever-present camera cell phoneall of which allow Kale access to what’s going on beyond his restricted 100-foot perimeter from the “control center” inside his home.

Stylistic Departure

For exec-producers Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock, “Disturbia” was somewhat of a conscious stylistic departure. Notes Reitman: “Most of the films we’ve produced have been broad comedies, usually with teenagers, or at least people behaving like teenagers, at the center, film such as ‘Old School’ and ‘Road Trip.’ While this one has high school students as its main characters, it’s thrillerwith some attitude.”