I can't think of a better way to describe Disturbia than as a Rear Window for teens, and as a modern homage, the entertaining thriller is highly enthralling, if not incredibly complex. Shia LaBeouf, who I'm ready to declare one of the most natural young actors working today, is excellent as Kale, a troubled teen who punches his Spanish teacher when the teacher makes a rude comment about Kale's recently deceased dad.
Sentenced to a summer of house arrest, Kale at first spends his time on trivial pursuits like playing video games and building towers out of Twinkies. But soon, he develops a new hobby: watching the seemingly mundane routines of his neighbors play out as "reality TV without the TV." He's particularly interested in Ashley, the very hot city girl who just moved in next door; soon, she realizes what Kale is up to and wants to peek too.
In true Hitchcock style, the movie's suspense builds very slowly from there and keeps us guessing the whole time, so
Disturbia benefits from a well-written script that — aside from one cheesy but obligatory romantic scene — never feels unnatural or forced. That keeps us compelled even during the first three-quarters of the film, which is relatively light on action: Kale flirts with Ashley, talks back to his mom (Carrie-Ann Moss), and grows more and more paranoid with each passing day that his neighbor (David Morse) is actually the perpetrator of a recent murder. With an arsenal of surveillance technology that seems excessive even for a rich suburban teen, Kale, Ashley, and his buddy Ronnie become obsessed with catching the man in some sordid act.
But of course, paranoia often begets mistaken accusations, and after several run-ins with the neighbor and a few embarrassing cries of wolf, Kale's friends begin to think maybe he's the problem. As viewers, we also start to suspect that this neighbor is just a normal, if slightly creepy, guy.
As the movie progresses, I found myself veering between being completely at ease and scared out of my wits. That, my friends, is the mark of a good thriller, and Disturbia never reaches to be anything but. The pleasant surprise is that, thanks to capable actors and a neat little script, the movie rises above the standard teen fare.
Photo courtesy of DreamWorks