Homage to Hitchcock

'Disturbia' takes voyeurism into the electronic age

Posted: April 13, 2007

While "Perfect Stranger" seems to show that Hollywood has forgotten how to make a decent thriller, the less glossy "Disturbia" proves the opposite.

Turns out, it's not so hard. Simply find a a Hollywood classic, like "Rear Window," and come up with a cleverly updated, B-movie cover version.

"Disturbia" casts Shia LaBeouf in the Jimmy Stewart role as an incapacitated voyeur who comes to believe there is a murderer in his neighborhood.

LaBeouf plays Kale, a hot-tempered high-school kid who punches his Spanish teacher and is forced to spend his summer under house arrest, wearing an ankle-bracelet that alerts police when he strays more than a few feet from his front door.

(The movie has a perverse sense of humor - the Latino cop who answers the call is the Spanish teacher's cousin).

The self-pitying Kale wallows in the distractions of iPods, video games and digital cable until his angry mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) cuts him off from all things electrical.

This leads Kale to discover the simpler but no less engrossing joys of binoculars.

They're especially useful in observing the shapely contours of his new next-door neighbor (Sarah Roemer), who likes to don a bikini and go for a swim every day.

The immediate attraction to Kale is physical, but he soon finds himself engrossed in her turbulent family life (feuding parents on a way to divorce).

Also of interest: The creepy bachelor (David Morse) who brings women home late at night. They arrive, but never seem to leave, and the TV blares with reports of a serial killer operating in the area.

Could it be?

Kale is dying to know, and enlists the new girl and his best pal (Aaron Yoo) in an amateur investigation.

Here, "Disturbia" tries to imagine what Hitchcock might have done with cell phones, web-cams, laptops and the like.

Director DJ Caruso shows how these gadgets turn his teen protagonists into more than passive Peeping Toms - they conduct DHS-style surveillance, and enjoy the power trip that goes with it. (Here the movie is a faint, pop echo of "The Lives of Others.")

Caruso, though, is careful to preserve Hitchcock's centerpiece. Kale is stuck at home, but sends his friends into the suspect's house equipped with video feeds that he watches on his home computer - one eye on his PC, the other on the man's house, where flickering shadows indicate that his confederates are not alone!

It's unoriginal but still effective, and shows anew how well-suited themes of voyeurism (we all like to watch) are to movies, especially thrillers.

So it's a bit of a disappointment that "Disturbia" abandons its witty homage for a standard modern slasher movie finale, complete with a dungeon, a pit and head-bashing. *

Produced by Jackie Marcus, Joe Medjuck and Tom Pollock, directed by DJ Caruso, written by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth, music by Geoff Zanelli, distributed by DreamWorks.

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