"Disturbia" | I spy ... a suburban teen twist on Hitchcock's "Rear Window"
"I'd help, but I'm just a little spatially challenged right now," teenage Kale (Shia La Beouf) says to pretty Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who's...
Seattle Times movie critic
"Disturbia" with Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Aaron Yoo. Directed by D.J. Caruso, from a screenplay
by Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of terror and violence and for some sensuality. Several theaters.
"I'd help, but I'm just a little spatially challenged right now," teenage Kale (Shia La Beouf) says to pretty Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who's moving in next door. He's not kidding: After punching out his Spanish teacher, Kale is on house arrest for the summer, wearing an ankle bracelet that alerts the police if he ventures more than a few steps from his front door.
Alone in the house all day while his widowed mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) works, Kale eats peanut butter dipped in chocolate, glues Twinkies together for a sculpture, immerses himself in video games and, restless, starts watching the neighbors through binoculars. Soon, he sees rather more than he bargained for: mysterious neighbor Mr. Turner (David Morse) seems to be up to no good.
"Disturbia" with Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Aaron Yoo. Directed by D.J. Caruso, from a screenplay by Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of terror and violence and for some sensuality. Several theaters.
If you think D.J. Caruso's "Disturbia" sounds more than a bit like a suburban teen version of the 1954 Hitchcock classic "Rear Window," you're right. And while that comparison is a fight so unfair it's not worth taking on (suffice to say that "Rear Window" is one of the greatest films ever made, and those who haven't seen it should drop this newspaper immediately and hasten to the nearest video store, for heaven's sake), "Disturbia" turns out to be a mildly pleasant surprise. Despite some wrong turns at the end, when Caruso drops his previous restraint and goes for the cheap, quick-cut scares, it's for the most part a taut, careful thriller that emphasizes suspense over blood and gore.
Caruso, working from a screenplay by Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth, does nice work with his teen cast. The likable LaBeouf has a visible restlessness to him — he can't quite hold still, a believable response of a "spatially challenged" kid — and Aaron Yoo, as Kale's best pal Ronnie, has snappy comic timing. When Ashley comes over, the two can initially barely contain their nervousness; she completely rattles them, as confident girls often do to teenage boys.
The film takes its time with character details, so that when the scary Mr. Turner plot takes over (are there corpses in his home?), we know exactly what's at stake for these kids, and we're tense with them.
Technology helps the teens with their spying but creates problems of its own: Ronnie, after a risky search of Mr. Turner's car, realizes belatedly that he's left his cellphone behind. But the film's most effective when it goes low-tech: Kale, with his binoculars, steps back from the window in horror (just as James Stewart did, pushing back in his wheelchair, in "Rear Window"), hoping against hope that if he can't see the killer, the killer can't see him.
"Disturbia" falls apart at the end, when we finally enter the Turner house — Caruso's forgotten that what we can imagine is far scarier than anything we see. But until then, it's competent entertainment. LaBeouf and Roemer aren't exactly Stewart and Grace Kelly; but then again, nobody is.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com