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104 min.
Release Date

Rising young actor Shia LaBeouf stars in D.J. Caruso’s new picture Disturbia, a thriller about a teenager on house arrest who becomes a peeping tom instead of doing something constructive, like reading a book or watching a good DVD. Like most movie voyeurs, his scopophilia gets him into trouble. LaBeouf plays Kale, who, while driving, loses his father in a car accident during the prologue. A year later, Kale’s anger and emotional ambiguity obstruct his grades and social life. His Spanish teacher remarks on Kale’s decline in front of the class, commenting that his father would be disappointed. Even though Kale socks the teacher in the eye, an understanding judge forgoes any jail time for the troubled teen and sentences him to house arrest.

Clamped with an ankle sensor, Kale can’t go further than one hundred feet from a tracking box in his kitchen or police show up with sirens howling. He becomes cataclysmically bored a little too quickly; he resorts to making Twinkie castles and gazing out the window with binoculars glued to his face. Luckily, his three-month imprisonment in his own home occurs during summer months. Sarah Roemer plays the next door bikini babe Kale just loves to watch swimming (the group of ten-year-olds watching porn across the street keep Kale plenty busy too); when she catches him, everyone has a hardy laugh and they all become friends. Why do attractive women always fall for Peeping Toms? The plot thickens when Kale begins to suspect that his neighbor, played by the ever-magnificent David Morse, hacks up women in his garage. Confined to his house, Kale sends out his best friend (Aaron Yoo) and the bikini babe to do the investigating for him.

If this setup sounds familiar, it’s because Disturbia owes its thrills to Rear Window, as nearly ever twist, turn, and plot development derives from Hitchcock’s classic. LaBeouf recently told St. Paul’s Pioneer Press, “The first thing I said when I met the director was, ‘Dude, you are not doing a remake of Rear Window, are you? That would be critical suicide. You don’t remake Hitchcock. But he said it’s not a remake. More like if you could take Rear Window and Say Anything and mix them up, that would be what we were trying to do.” On one point LaBeouf is correct: remaking Hitchcock would be critical suicide (look at Van Sant’s shot-by-shot Psycho remake). Caruso’s film is a revision.

Disturbia rethinks Rear Window with contemporary gimmicks, including one nerve-racking scene involving a digital camera. And while newfangled technology keeps the plot moving, “inspired by” should have been somewhere in the credits. Caruso aptly handles the material so that the suspense outweighed my angst over the blatant theft from Hitchcock’s original masterpiece. When a movie is about a guy looking out the window, the guy and what’s out the window better be pretty damned interesting or the movie will fail. Already intrigued by the murder mystery, the picture’s victory relies on its lead. LaBeouf plays the same character he did in I, Robot and Constantine—the fast-talking smartass—but without the superfluous sidekick position. As Kale, his cocky and humorous performance centers the picture as the story’s voyeur. He’s consistently likable, natural, and believable in his fear and enthusiasm.

Regardless of the silly title, inane romance subplot, cheesy last scene, and deep plot holes, I found myself jumping, cringing, and laughing when I was supposed to. The movie may not be art, nor comparable to Hitchcock, but it works as a B-grade thriller. Parallels to Rear Window abound, and occasionally contemptible, Disturbia takes a proven narrative and reminds us how entertaining well-constructed suspense can be, even if shamefully reprocessed for modern audiences.

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