Review by Kristin Battestella
On the Memorial Day matinee whim, we took in the teen thriller Disturbia. Only a handful of folks were in the theater, and the show’s PG-13 rating had me thinking second thoughts. Can you make a quality horror film in this day and age without a solid amount of blood, gore, sex, and language? While not for the hard core creature feature enthusiast, Disturbia fits the bill for its targeted teen audience.
Troubled teen Kale (Shia LeBeouf) is still struggling with his father’s death one year after the fatal car accident. Teachers and even Mom Julie (Carrie Ann Moss) can’t seem to reach Kale, and after things get violent with his Spanish teacher, Kale is forced to spend his summer under house arrest-ankle bracelet and all. With no TV or video games, Kale has a tough time with his inbound status-until he begins observing his neighborhood. The ruthless tots on his block, the affair across the street, the new cutie Ashley (Sarah Roemer) next door- Kale and his best pal Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) begin to suspect lawn mowing neighbor Robert (David Morse) of being the serial killer on the news. When Robert takes an interested in his mom, Kale takes his voyeurism to the next level.
Two problems with Disturbia right off the bat. One, I really hope kids don’t try at home what they see in this movie. The high tech binoculars, camera set ups, internet instructions, etc. are not meant to be emulated, but must serve as the technical means for Kale’s plans. Second, the bi polar storyline works for and against Disturbia. On one hand, the film is an excellent coming of age story-even if it is the trouble teen, issues, yada yada cliché we’ve all seen before. But in addition to this very real and well played drama, we have Kale’s mission to find evidence against his psychotic neighbor. Which storyline is meant to dominate? If Director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives) isn’t sure, how can the audience be?
Written by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth, Disturbia spends most of its time on Kale’s coming to terms with his situation. The lengthy establishments in the beginning don’t feel like such, but not everything put down is fully explored either. In order to spy on Ashley, Kale must venture into his dead father’s office. We have one sad, reflective scene, but soon after Kale is timing his watch and bringing in the popcorn. It wouldn’t be so bad if we have character and development, then move on to the scary bits, but the two stories are interweaved together. Kale spies, Ashley wanders over, they spy, Kale and Ashley fight, Kale and Ronnie go to creepy neighbor’s house, Kale and Ashley make up…Oiy! If Disturbia was fifty percent boy meets girl then fifty percent save mom from killer perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, its not, and I’m unclear the point Caruso and company are trying to make. These storylines should have been two separate films. I mean, what really, do they have to do with each other?
Disturbia’s bright spot, however, is the cast. Carrie Ann Moss is somewhat wasted, and after such success in The Matrix I wonder why she took such a thankless role? Still her wit is on form, and the relationship with Kale works. I had no clue who he was before Disturbia but LeBeouf was everywhere at the theater, in the Transformers trailer and possibly the new Indiana Jones film. The chemistry with newcomer Sarah Roemer is there, and it was a pleasant change to see an Asian in the best friend role-even if the sidekick part is also thankless. Action veteran David Morse (The Rock, The Long Kiss Goodnight) is perfect as the murderous neighbor. Disturbia would be unwatchable if Robert was unbelievably played. Morse sells the mid life crisis charismatic psycho. Imagine what the cast could have done if they had a clear plot in mind.
The cast keeps each scene watchable, you like them and root for the positive outcome, but the pace of Disturbia is as uneven as its bipolar stories. We get a voyeuristic suspense scene with shades of Rear Window followed by a teen angst scene more like Can’t Hardly Wait. Deathly crimes with a crazy neighbor won’t wait for midnight confessions. Its unrealistic and jerks you out of what little rhythm is established.Disturbia doesn’t have the gore young audiences have made popular with the likes of Saw or Hostel. Its the sets and looks that fit the mood of the film. Disturbia takes itself seriously, which makes it one step above Eerie, Indiana. Parents needn’t worry about dropping the kids off at the theater for this one, and maybe this would be a nice DVD to pick up for a family night in a few months. Unless you have a child prone to house arrest with nothing to do, Disturbia is a fine teen thriller. Young folks will take the action, babes, and chills for what its worth, but there’s little in Disturbia to disturb.