Movie Review: Disturbia

“Disturbia” is every bit the “Clueless Rear Window” that you think it is. (That’s clueless as in Amy Heckerling’s awesome 1995 comedy, not clueless as in ‘people in horror movies do the zaniest things.’) And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Simple and direct like the 2005 airplane thriller “Red Eye,” “Disturbia” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is, and thank goodness for that.

Shia LaBeouf is Kale, a seemingly normal teen whose life is turned upside down when he is in a car accident that takes the life of his father. Now sullen and impulsive, he’s sentenced to three months of house arrest after a violent outburst during the last week of school. Kale’s mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) cancels his Xbox and iTunes accounts as punishment, and Kale alleviates his boredom by spying on his neighbors. The voyeurism proves titillating at first, especially when it comes to new neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer), but Kale soon suspects that the quiet Mr. Turner (David Morse) is somehow involved with the disappearances of a string of young women. Of course, Ashley and Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), Kale’s best friend, think he’s getting stir crazy, and the police aren’t too receptive to a kid with an ankle bracelet.

The filmmakers were wise to keep things simple: had “Disturbia” become some convoluted, betcha-didn’t-see-that-coming mind-bender, it would have been a complete failure. The movie is a thriller, not a mystery, and it thankfully does not lose sight of the distinction. The teenagers act (and, more importantly, talk) like teenagers, and the adults, per Teen Movie rules, don’t listen to a word they say.

Still, the movie is not without its hoary moments. The climax takes place in a conveniently rain-free thunderstorm, giving director D.J. Caruso the opportunity to get a few cheap ‘boo’ scares with the use of flashing light. And anyone who’s seen “What Lies Beneath” knows what happens when the camera takes on the POV of someone looking through binoculars. Lastly, enough with sharp objects making that ‘shing!’ sound when someone picks them up or waves them in the air. They have to come in contact with another metal object in order for that to happen. God love David Morse, though, for giving Mr. Turner the most non-threatening menace imaginable and adding some extra gravitas to an otherwise stock role.

Is the making of a movie like “Disturbia” a sign that the studios themselves are just as fed up with this ‘all horror, all the time’ as the public seems to be (if the box office numbers for “The Hitcher” and “Dead Silence” are any indication), or is this merely the work of a studio that didn’t have the guts to go for the jugular like their competitors did, and are benefiting from good timing? Don’t know, don’t care, to be honest. It ain’t perfect, but it beats the hell out of 99% of the movies aimed at teenagers in the last year that were meant to elicit the same sense of dread.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
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