Disturbia (2007): Caruso’s Drama, Starring Shia LaBeouf

A young hip hero and new technology mark Disturbia, the semi-successful update of Hitchcock’s classic thriller “Rear Window” and other films about surveillance and voyeurism, such as Antonioni’s “Blow Up,” Coppola’s “The Conversation,” and others.

Reflecting the lifestyle of contemporary youths and our technologically-determined pop culture, Disturbia tries to bring old movie ideas and movie characters to the new millennium.

Though elegantly shot, and benefiting from a strong performance by the gifted, up-and-coming star Shia LaBeouf, ultimately, the film is mediocre.

Screenwriters Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth have done their homework; they must have replayed countless movies before constructing their own tale. It’s no surprise to find out that Ellsworth had also worked on the screenplay of the more recent thriller “Red Eye,” which also showed knowledge of film history.

First impression of Kale (Shia LaBeouf) is of a smart, alert youngster, who likes to take full advantage of his free reign of the house. He spends his days playing video games, surfing the net, eating junk food, and watching cable.

We learn that just a year ago, Kale, his mom Julie (a solid Carrie-Anne Moss of “Matrix” film series fame), and dad formed a tight-knit happy family. Then his father was killed in a car accident, for which Kale feels somehow responsible. That trauma has left unmistakable, long-lasting psychological effects on him after the outgoing Kale has turned into a withdrawn, almost shut down youngster

When an insensitive teacher brings up his father, Kale loses his temper and punches him out. Only the intercession of his mom keeps him out of jail. Under court-order, Kale is confined to house arrest for three months. If he takes one step beyond a 100-foot perimeter of the house, his next confinement will be in a real prison. Since he is not to be trusted, they place an anklet to summon police for the slightest violation of his punishment.

To make ends meet, Kale’s mom works day and night. What’s a bored teenager to do Using some secondhand surveillance equipment, he begins spying on the grade-school kids of the neighborhood, while not neglecting the adult residents, including a husband who cheats on his wife.

Getting an erotic kick from observing Ashley (Sarah Roemer), the beautiful girl who has just moved in next door, Kale begins to fantasize about her in various settings, such as the swimming pool. Quite cleverly, director D. J. Caruso posits Kale as an everyman, encouraging us as viewers to engage in his real and/or surreal dreaming.

To enliven the basic situation of restricted mobility, the filmmakers introduce other characters, such as Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), Kale’s buddy, and Ashley, the girl next door, who surprisingly becomes intrigued by his stakeout hobby. (The relationship between Kale and Ashley recalls that of Wes Bentley and Thora Birch in “American Beauty,” where Bentley also spied on his neighbors).

Soon, just like the trio in “Rear Window” (Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter), Kale, Ronnie, and Ashley join forces and form their own spying triad. Also like Hitchcock’s protags, they become particularly intrigued by a man named Turner (David Morse), who keeps too much to himself. Is Turner just shy What is he hiding Could he be the elusive serial killer sought by the police

Suspense builds up as Kale continues to watch Trevor’s every move and gesture. Following the basic plot line of “Rear Window,” what starts out as a game–a way to pass time–turns deadly serious, putting the trio’s lives at risk. New questions arise: Who’s going to believe Kale’s suspicion The authorities might dismiss the whole thing as a figment of his notoriously overactive imagination.

With the assist of his scripters, director Caruso conveys vividly the notion of “the quieter the street, the darker the secrets,” showing how suburbia’s upscale homes and manicured lawns could serve as the “perfect” place for a serial killer.

In this, and other respects, Caruso and his writers are echoing countless of directors, from Hitchcock and his 1943 “Shadow of a Doubt” (based on a screenplay by “Our Town’s playwright Thornton Wilder) to David Linch and his creepy vision of suburbia in the 1986 “Blue Velvet” (and later TV series “Twin Peaks”) all the way to Sam Mendes and Alan Ball and their 1999 “American Beauty.” Imitative as “Disturbia” is, at least it’s inspired by good directors and good films.

Caruso, who previously made the slick but empty “Two for the Money” (with Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey) and the disappointing political thriller “Taking Lives” (with Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke), shows some technical improvement as a helmer. Nonetheless, Caruso is not Hitchcock, and so he allows for credibility gaps and plot holes that the Master of Suspense would never tolerate.

Cloaking in at 105 minutes, “Disrurbia” overextends its welcome by 10-15 minutes. Whether versed in Hitchcock (and film) history or not, viewers these days are quick to grasp the nature of situations such as this movie’s. It takes Caruso far too long to establish the set-up, and a good editor could have trimmed some of the less thrilling scenes in the first reels.

That said, unlike other current thrillers, there are visual pleasures to be had due to Tom Southwell’s carefully detailed production design and Roger Stoffers’ smooth lensing. More importantly, there’s clever use of new technical gadgets that Hitchcock would have approved of (and loved to use), such as cell-phone, sophisticated camcorders, openers of garage doors, all of which produce sounds that are crucial for setting the film’s mood of ominous menace and suspense. If only the saga were not so familiar and predictable.

A word of warning: Though shrewdly chosen, the film’s title is misleading, since “Disturbia” is more of a psychological thriller than a schlocky horror flick.

Actor Alert

Watch out for Shia Labeouf, who’s only 20, but has already made numerous movies (including the recent “Bobbie” and “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”). He is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors. LaBeouf’s handsome looks, instinctive talent, and raw energy signal major stardom. Later this year, he will be seen in Michael Bay’s action-adventure “Transformers,” as well as in “Surf’s Up,” the animated feature set at the annual Penguin World Surfing Championship, voicing the newest, up-and-comer penguin Cody Maverick. (Art imitates life)


Kale (Shia LaBeouf)
Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss)
Turner (David Morse)
Ashley (Sarah Roemer)
Ronnie: (Aaron Yoo)


Running time: 104 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

Montecito Picture Company/DreamWorks
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenwriters: Christopher B. Landon, Carl Ellsworth
Producers: Jackie Marcus, Joe Medjuck, Tom Pollock
Executive producers: Ashley Brucks, Jeremy Kramer, Ivan Reitman, Steven Spielberg, E. Bennett Walsh
Cinematography: Roger Stoffers
Production design: Tom Southwell
Costume design: Marie-Sylvie Deveau
Music: Geoff Zanelli
Editor: Jim Page