There have been a lot of films about voyeurism over the years. The one with the most accolades belongs to an unknown filmmaker by the name of Alfred Hitchcock. Say what! You’ve never heard of Alfred Hitchcock! I mean, sure the man never won an Oscar but you must be familiar with the work?
All kidding aside, filmmaker D.J. Caruso (THE SALTON SEA) is getting raked over the internet coals for taking the base of Hitchcock’s masterpiece REAR WINDOW and transplanting the film to a suburban wasteland teen suspense thriller. Now, here’s the part where I say…shame on you. Did SLiTHER teach you nothing? Are you the same lemmings who told James Gunn that he was jacking the plot from NIGHT OF THE CREEPS? I’ll bet you’re the same fanboys who ran out to buy the DVD of that film on the day it released while proclaiming it the best damn movie of the year…I know I did. That’s right I was a non-believer. So, hindsight got the better of me before I saw DISTURBIA. I was not going to allow a preconceived notion spoil this film before the first frame ever flickered by. And, you know what? D.J. Caruso made a damn fine thriller that only shares a common thread to Hitchcock’s masterwork.
Shia LeBeouf (CONSTANTINE) is Kale, and Kale has issues. His biggest issue is that as the film opens he is in a horrific car accident that takes the life of his father. Any idea you’ve had about what constitutes horror can very nearly be redefined by this first few minutes of film. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen thousands of car wrecks – real ones on the side of the interstate, televised and You Tubbed NASCAR disasters and literally an unending succession of stylized Hollywood slo-mo smash ups. I’ve even been in a few myself, one of which really shook me up. But nothing like the unexpected collision that appears on the screen in the opening frames of DISTURBIA. The power in the scene lies not in what is showed, it’s in what Caruso leaves on the cutting room floor. The horror of the reality is sold directly through the eyes of Kale, and LeBeouf—an actor who often brings a charming reality to his roles—plays it like a pro. This tragedy, however mortifying, is not what the film is about. It only serves as set-up for the films catch.
Devastated by the loss Kale retreats into his own world, and when we see him again, the bright light in his face is an ashen gray. When poised with the question “what would your father think” Kale takes his Spanish teacher out with just one punch. This lands him straight in front of a judge who subsequently sentences the seventeen year-old to 3 months house arrest. Got the set-up? See that thread I mentioned before? Good, cause now Caruso and writers Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth are going to mix it up a bit—but not too much.
Enter Ashley, the beautiful girl next door (Sarah Roemer, THE GRUDGE 2). Kale, who has precious little to do other than spy on his neighbors has trained a keen eye on Ashley, and Ashley unknowingly placates him, spending her days swimming in the pool and her nights practicing Yoga in a heavily windowed bedroom. Kale’s other obsession occurs thanks to a continual broadcasting news story about missing woman who was last seen getting into a 60’s era Ford Mustang with a dent near the front fender—a detail that seems inconsequential until late one night when Kale notices his other neighbor (David Morse, THE GREEN MILE) driving home a vehicle that matches that very description.
What comes next is an extremely entertaining thrill ride of a film that manages to create an effective air of suspense in a genre where the ending is almost always a foregone conclusion. We all know that no one is going to believe Kale. We already know that Morse is a killer. We already know that Kale is gonna have to violate his house arrest to solve the mystery, and we pretty much know that the police aren’t gonna buy his crap when he tries to convince them otherwise. That Caruso, Landon and Ellsworth still manage to make the film as shocking and surprisingly funny is a testament to their filmmaking prowess.
It’s certainly true that most modern moviemakers are not blowing the doors off genre filmmaking. The adage that every tale was already told by Shakespeare rings true a hundred times or more a year when new films open at the box office. Still, DISTURBIA with its moderate derivations manages to take what we already claim to know about the modern suspense thriller and deliver back a film that meets those requirements but does so in an entertaining way.
Formula exists because studios and filmmakers know it succeeds. Alfred Hitchcock knew that formula works. His entire “cinema of the wrong man” is evidence to that. Hell, Hitch even named one of his films THE WRONG MAN. So, check your notions at the door before you see DISTURBIA—or hang on them if you want. In the end, I don’t think it matters one damn bit what you think going in. Coming out you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.