Paramount // 2007 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // September 13th, 2007
Every killer lives next door to someone.
In April 2007, Disturbia, a small-budget teen thriller inspired by Rear Window opened to surprisingly strong reviews. Building on this positive buzz, the film went on to lead the box office for its first two weeks of release. Now, for those of you who didn't want to see the movie in a theater full of loud teenagers, Distubia gets its release on HD DVD.
After Kale (Shia LaBeouf, Transformers) witnesses his father die in a grisly car accident he develops behavioral problems, culminating in a fistfight with his pushy Spanish teacher. Kale is found guilty of assault and put under house arrest, to be enforced by an ankle bracelet. Confined to his home, Kale quickly grows bored and begins spying on his neighbors with a pair of binoculars. On one side he discovers Ashley (Sarah Roemer, The Grudge 2), a beautiful girl who has just moved next door; on the other side he finds Daniel Bracht (David Morse, Dancer in the Dark), a creepy man who may very well be a serial killer. Kale's snooping somehow entices Ashley, but it might also provoke a madman's wrath.
Though I rarely rush out to watch any of the movies marketed towards a teen audience, I still cherish the teen films of my own generation, films that seemed flawless at the time: social satires like Heathers, broad comedies like Clueless, and hip horror flicks like The Lost Boys. Now, when I re-watch these movies, despite my continuing affinity, I can't help but notice flaws that were previously indiscernible. Watching Disturbia for the first time I was briefly transported back to my youth and re-experienced the joy of astute, engaging teen cinema. I get the feeling that there are millions of teenagers who now consider it to be a definitively great movie. Unfortunately my exuberance for Disturbia can't help but be tempered by an increasingly dwindling tolerance for the cliché and the absurd.
To the extent that Disturbia works, and for the most part it does, the credit has to go to LaBeouf. The movie's plot, while clever in the sense that it synthesizes thrills both sexy and scary, is hardly innovative. Without an engaging lead there would certainly be an increased focus on the story, exposing how predictable and conventional it is. But LaBeouf enlivens the material, heightening the humor, pathos, and, to a lesser extent, the tension of the movie. What makes LaBeouf special is not only his ability to give a seemingly effortless, natural performance, but that he seems like a regular teenager. LaBeouf has an everyman quality to him that endears him to the audience; he doesn't seem like a Hollywood actor, but someone we could have gone to high school with.
Anchored by this performance, the first two acts of Disturbia are nearly flawless: funny, touching, and titillating all in equal amounts. However, the film's final half hour, dominated by the showdown between Kale and his suspicious neighbor, is mostly ridiculous, and definitely a killjoy. Not only does the film take an abrupt and abrasively dark turn, but nearly every scene contains some absurd element that is unintentionally laughable. This last half hour doesn't belong here; it should be the finale of an anonymous, direct-to-video teen horror movie.
Still, for over an hour, Distubia works tremendously well. It is still worth seeing, if for nothing else than Shia LaBeouf's performance. LaBeouf is still only 21 years old, and hasn't yet landed a role commensurate with his incredible talent. Until then, Disturbia is probably the best we've got.
The picture on the HD DVD is presented in a strong 1.85:1/1080p transfer. Unfortunately, most of the film takes place indoors, so there is little opportunity for beautiful cinematography. Still, many of these interior scenes were shot with low light levels, and the nearly flawless picture creates exceptionally strong contrasts. Though the soundtrack is minimal, the surround sound is used effectively for ambient noises like doorbells and footsteps.
There are plenty of extra features on the disc, though the only substantial feature is the commentary track by director D.J. Caruso, Shia LaBeouf, and Sarah Roemer. The commentary is not so much informative as irreverent. The three participants snack throughout the movie, receive phone calls, and generally make fun of each other. The rest of the extras seem to be thrown together just to make an impressive list on the back of the DVD case. Each of these features -- bloopers, deleted scenes, a bland making-of featurette -- take only a few minutes to watch and offer nothing substantial.
Disturbia is surprisingly funny and touching for a teen thriller. Unfortunately, it falls short of delivering many thrills, but with a strong lead performance from Shia LaBeouf, it's still worth watching. To paraphrase the great Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy, this kid's got it, and he couldn't get rid of it even if he wanted to.
There are clear violations here, but nothing deserving of incarceration. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2007 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX (French)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX (Spanish)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary by director D.J. Caruso and cast members Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer
* Deleted Scenes
* The Making of Distubia
* Serial Pursuit Trivia Pop-up Quiz
* Outtakes and Bloopers
* Music Video: "Don't Make Me Wait" by This World Fair
* Photo Gallery
* Official site