Shia LaBeouf as Kale
Sarah Roemer as Ashley
Carrie-Anne Moss as Julie
David Morse as Mr. Turner
Aaron Yoo as Ronnie
Jose Pablo Cantillo as Officer Gutierrez
Matt Craven as Daniel Brecht
Viola Davis as Detective Parker
Brandon Caruso as Greenwood Boy #1
Luciano Caruso as Greenwood Boy #2
Daniel Caruso as Greenwood Boy #3
Directed by D.J. Caruso
Far more than a “Rear Window” knock-off, “Disturbia” mixes intense thrills with humor and romance to create a thoroughly entertaining experience that’s likely to exceed what one might expect from such a simple premise.
It takes some time for “Disturbia” to set up what some might assume to be an updating of “Rear Window,” but it’s the time spent introducing the characters and getting the viewer caught up in their lives that makes the second half so effectively thrilling.
Before we can get there, Shia LaBeouf’s Kale has to be confined to his house to make the premise work. This is done with an opening sequence that shows the tragic car crash that kills Kale’s father, leading to Kale punching his Spanish teacher for making an off-hand remark. Kale is restricted to house arrest for the summer, and his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) isn’t going to make it easy for him, so Kale’s new pastime involves spying on his neighbors, his favorite one being the super-hot Ashley (Sarah Roehmer) who just moved in next door. Kale and his cohort Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) have also been watching his creepy neighbor Robert Turner (David Morse), who they suspect is involved with a recent spate of missing persons. When Ashley gets in on their game, things step-up as the trio play Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys in trying to find proof that Turner is responsible for the missing women.
It might not be much of a shock that the concept for “Distubia” came from the writer behind “Red Eye,” and in a similar way, this simple premise is one that’s easily absorbed and digested. It’s what director D.J. Caruso does with it that makes it such an interesting addition to the genre, starting as a routine suburban teen dramedy and transforming into something creepy and sinister while constantly veering away from what might be expected. In doing so, it builds up one of the most nail-biting action-packed finales, though the ending is more likely to remind you of the Spielberg-produced “Poltergeist,” than the far too easy obvious comparison to Tom Hanks’ “The ‘Burbs.”
If nothing else, “Disturbia” is one of Shia LaBeouf’s meatier roles, allowing him to effortlessly slip into leading man’s shoes, while showing how much he’s improved as a dramatic actor since his Disney years. He’s particularly good in the more emotional moments when he reflects on his father’s death, but he brings a lot to the whole movie with the way he reacts so naturally to the different situations in which Kale winds up. Clearly having graduated from the comic sidekick phase of his career, LaBeouf gets his own in the form of his best friend Ronny, a very funny performance by Aaron Yoo that builds on the duo’s chemistry. The same can be said for Sarah Roehmer, who proves to be far more than a pretty face and (really) nice ass with a part that’s far more than mere eye-candy or a love interest cliché. Still, the tenuous romance between them drives the movie in a way that’s likely to win over even the most stalwart cynic.
David Morse fans probably won’t need to see “Disturbia” to know how great he is at playing the bad guy, but he brings his A-game to Robert Turner, turning him into a layered villain ala Hannibal Lecter circa “Silence of the Lambs” as he plays games with the teen sleuths. The best case of this is an intense scene where Turner catches Ashley trailing him to report back to Kale and Ronnie, and it’s a real turning point in the movie.
Either way, this is a substantial step up for Caruso as a director after his earlier thriller, the slightly problematic “Taking Lives,” and it’s particularly impressive how he creates an intricate array of recurring characters, then pulls all of the elements together to make the movie build to such a satisfying roller coaster of an ending.
The Bottom Line:
So many thrillers have tried to mimic the mastery of Alfred Hitchcock but familiar premise aside, what “Disturbia” gets right is in realizing that the lighter character building stuff is necessary to make the terror in the second half that much more frightening. Those going in for the thrills might be slightly bored by the amount of teen hijinks early in the movie–a few of the subplots could have been trimmed to get to those thrills quicker–but by mixing other elements into a genre that tends to be naturally derivative, “Disturbia” winds up being a truly satisfying addition to the thriller genre.