The first thing nearly everyone says about Disturbia when they see the trailers is “hey that looks like Rear Window”. The comparison is unavoidable. Rear Window is Hitchcock, and thus the high water mark in peeping tom thrillers. Disturbia star Shia LaBeouf has defended his film against those comparisons by pointing out that there’s room for more than one film in the genre, and he’s right, assuming that his film can bring something new to the table. In fact beyond the surface similarities of a guy sitting at a window with binoculars scoping out a possible killer across the fence, Rear Window and Disturbia really aren’t all that similar. Actually, if you want to compare Disturbia to something, it’s almost exactly like the Tom Hanks comedy The 'Burbs, only without any attempt to be funny and with a bunch of annoying, too-perfect teenagers. It’s like someone took The 'Burbs and cross-bred it with the career of Freddie Prinze Jr. In case you’re wondering, that’s not a good thing. That stuff in the back of your throat is bile. This is the spot where you’re supposed to gag.
Shia LaBeouf plays a trouble teenager named Kale who, after he punches his Spanish teacher, ends up with a bracelet on his leg and under house arrest. If he goes further than 100 feet from his kitchen, the cops show up and drag him off to jail. His mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) decides he’s not going to spend his time having fun, and so she cuts off his videogames and terminates his iTunes account, leaving Kale with nothing to do except build Twinky forts and stare out a window to watch what his suburbanite neighbors are up to.
Rather than get down to the business of being a thriller right off the bat, most of the movie is spent glamorizing how awesome teenagers are, as incredibly good looking, MTV hip Kale flexes and hangs around with his equally good looking obligatory funny Asian friend and finds ways to ogle and hit on Ashley (Sarah Roemer) the super-hot new girl next door. Kind of makes you long for the days when you were an uber-cool supermodel teenager too doesn’t it? The weird thing is that in the past Shia LaBeouf hasn’t belonged with the perfectly toned bodies and bubbly enhanced breasts of the usual Hollywood teen movie. It’s somewhat disturbing to discover that the slightly nerdy, lovable, everykid child actor may be on the verge of turning into the new Paul Walker.
When not re-enacting beats from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Disturbia plays a lot like Monster House, with Kale staring out his window at a creepy neighbor and wondering whether or not he might have dead bodies in his garage. Because if you had dead bodies, that’s where you’d keep them… that way your neighbors can see them every time you pull out your car. The movie telegraphs everything long before it does it, and the script is incredibly manipulative. This is a film so desperate to get an emotional response out of you, that it brutally kills a kid’s dad in the first five minutes, for no other reason than to make sure you sympathize with the movie’s lead character later on when he’s stupidly stumbling around the house of a serial killer.
In the last fifteen minutes Disturbia really gets down to being a thriller. In better movies about voyeuristic mysteries, the entire film before this would have been spent building up to a confrontation between our hero and the guy he believes to be a serial killer. The fun of this type of film is usually in wondering whether or not our voyeur is right: is the guy next door really a murderer or has our hero simply gone stir crazy? Disturbia only pretends to have that much complexity. In reality we know all the answers long before the movie gets around to reveal them, and even when it does reveal them it does so much too early. The end of the movie devolves into a clumsy, standard horror movie chase sequence in which a killer pursues a victim who, for inexplicable reasons decides to make every stupid mistake the film’s writers could think of.
Disturbia is clumsy, manipulative, and worst of all a creatively bankrupt pastiche of other, better films. Shia LaBeouf is right, there is room for more than one movie in the voyeur genre, but only if that movie brings something new to the table. Disturbia is well shot, it looks great, and if you’re a teenager it’s probably the perfect date movie. It is not however, new. It’s a mish-mash of other people’s ideas crammed into a movie that doesn’t deserve to use them with a lead actor who’s either simply been miscast or has morphed from an interesting young actor to something wholly evil. How long do you think, before Shia LaBeouf is dating Lindsay Lohan?