Directed by D. J. Caruso
It’s a good thing I didn’t do any research into the parties behind Disturbia before seeing it. Otherwise, I might have brought extra baggage into the theatre rather than just walking in, sitting back, and letting the film do its thing. And what Disturbia did was entertain the hell out of me for a solid 104 minutes from start to finish. It opens with a poignant father/son fishing expedition, careens into action mode immediately afterwards with a spectacular car crash, gives us a bit of character development and exposition, and then morphs seamlessly into an edge-of-your-seat thriller for the duration. Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Yes, it owes a lot to Rear Window, but by the last half hour I wasn’t thinking about Alfred or Jimmy. No siree. The person on my mind was Michael — as in Myers — only a maskless, human version with just a dash of Hopkins’ Hannibal (sans any trace of an accent) thrown in for good measure. Maybe those disappointed in the upcoming Halloween remake can find some small solace in Disturbia instead.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What about those filmmakers? Who the heck are they, and why do their names strike fear — and, at the same time, high expectations — in the hearts of so many genre fans? Let’s start with director Caruso. Does the title The Salton Sea ring any bells? It’s only one of the most badass undercover cop movies ever made. Val Kilmer, Peter Sarsgaard, and Vincent D’Onofrio give performances of a lifetime. But then came Taking Lives. *shudder* Does it get much worse? Thankfully Disturbia is much closer to Sea than Lives so I’ll blame the studio for the horrendous Jolie/Hawke/Sutherland misfire and put Caruso back on my A list. He keeps Disturbia from becoming the dull, formulaic murder mystery we’ve all seen a million times by somehow inserting a freshness into both the lead characters and the villain. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it was magic, pure and simple movie magic of the type audiences used to enjoy back in Hitchcock’s heyday when it wasn’t so much about box office as it was escapism into another set of lives and problems. What with the type of horror movies we’ve been subjected to lately, it makes sense that a throwback, seemingly throwaway film like Disturbia would be the one that surprises and satisfies the most.
So, whom can we thank for coming up with the script that set this chain of events in motion? The story and one half of the screenplay are credited to Christopher Landon, whom I admit I’m not familiar with other than knowing (after checking him out on the IMDB) that he’s the late Michael Landon’s son. Good genes apparently lead to good narratives. His partner in this endeavor was none other than Carl Ellsworth, the scribe of Red Eye, one of the worst, most implausible messes audiences were subjected to back in 2005. What made it even sadder was the fact that Ellsworth wrote one of the best, most beloved Buffy episodes ever: Season 2’s “Halloween,” which leads me to believe that the failures of Red Eye were the result of execution rather than source material. That idea seems to be borne out in Disturbia since there’s not a moment in the film when events don’t play out in the most organic way possible. In other words, unlike in Red Eye or your typical slasher type film, nobody does anything extremely stupid in Disturbia — other than a cop, and by that point you’re kind of hoping he gets his comeuppance anyway so it’s forgivable. Ellsworth and Landon deserve a lot of credit for their dialogue and pacing. The characters sound like they should and act like they would given their set of circumstances. Nothing feels forced or phony although there is a moment during the final chase sequence when things seems to be dragging on a little too long, but then it gets quickly back on track and reinserts the viewer right back into the fray.
If you haven’t seen the trailer, then you may be wondering what “fray” I’m speaking of. Disturbia is, in a nutshell, the tale of Kale Brecht (LaBeouf), a high school boy who has been sentenced to house arrest over the summer months for striking a teacher and begins to suspect his reclusive neighbor is a psychopath who picks up women and kills them. He’s aided in his investigation into this theory by his wisecracking buddy Ronnie (Yoo) and Ashley, the hot new girl next-door (Roemer) whose parents moved to suburbia in a desperate attempt to keep daddy dearest from cheating quite so much. Fate has, of course, brought them all together; and as one would imagine, Kale develops instant hots for Ashley, she teases him a bit before falling for his ample charms, and Caruso teases the audience with whether or not Mr. Turner (Morse), the killer in question, is guilty or just the victim of Kale’s overactive imagination and boredom as a result of being homebound. All this over a kickin’ soundtrack that includes such diverse acts as Minnie Ripperton, Afroman, Buckcherry, and Lou Rawls. Binoculars, camcorders, and cell phones play prominent roles in the kids’ activities, as you’d expect given our current society, but the technology never intrudes. Both LaBeouf and Roemer (man, that’s a lot of vowels!) are likable and immensely talented, thereby proving that you really can find young actors these days who are able to bump up a project’s quality level rather than just induce groans of “no, please, not another fresh face!”
Kale’s mom (Moss) is a tad underdeveloped, but we feel for her as she struggles to simultaneously support and reprimand him when the shit hits the fan and events start spiraling out of control. Moss does a lot with the little she’s given, and I must make at least a small mention of Matt Craven, who plays Kale’s father. The guy has been working since 1979, and while you may not know his name, you’ll surely recognize his face. He isn’t given much screen time here but brings a first-rate touch of class and professionalism to the project. And don’t fuck with David Morse. The guy can play evil. Sure, he was all nicey nice on St. Elsewhere back in the day, but over the intervening years his acting chops have developed exponentially. Mr. Turner may not produce a lot of visible blood and gore for the more hardcore viewer to cheer about, but his menace and killer instincts are clear enough that the character won’t be soon forgotten. I know I took a second look at a few of my neighbors when I got home just in case a Mr. Turner might be lurking under their seemingly normal veneers.
If you are part of the crowd that’s avoiding Disturbia because you think you’ve seen it all before, think again, head on over to the multiplex, and give it a shot. It may not be the best horror movie you’ll see all year, but I’m willing to bet that if you let yourself get caught up in Kale’s plight, you’ll stay engrossed and in a heightened state of suspense. It proves a PG-13 film with a cast made up predominately of young adults that steers clear of gruesome effects and in-your-face violence can still be interesting and enjoyable. Certainly no one wants a steady diet of such fare, but it’s definitely fun to see a shining example every couple of years. Disturbia fits the bill perfectly and should ride its success well into the next decade.
4 out of 5
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