Voyeurism goes high-tech in “Disturbia,” a modest but squirmingly fun suspenser that brings Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” into the era of vidcams and cell phones, serving up hearty, youth-skewing portions of PG-13 violence and bikini-bait along the way. Not unlike its engaging star Shia LaBeouf, here playing a house-bound teen who takes on a dangerous new hobby, this nifty little thriller is an irreverent whipper-snapper of a movie, always staying a few IQ points ahead of the competition. Set to open April 13, the Paramount release should find willing peepers on bigscreens, small screens and laptop/iPod screens before long.
OK, so LaBeouf isn’t exactly Jimmy Stewart. (And Sarah Roemer, with her habit of doing yoga in tube tops, is more Miss Torso than Grace Kelly.) But as plotted out by scribes Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth, “Disturbia” is frequently clever and sometimes downright inspired as it updates Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece for a uniquely paranoid present.
One year after his father was killed in a car accident, troubled teen Kale (LaBeouf) is sentenced to three months’ house arrest for punching out his Spanish teacher. When his firm but loving mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) also cuts off his access to videogames and iTunes, Kale begins spying intently on his neighbors — eyeing with particular interest Ashley (Roemer), a willowy young beauty (and avid swimmer) who just moved in next door.
Through his binoculars, Kale starts noticing some suspicious behavior from creepy older neighbor Robert Turner (David Morse) — a bloodstained fender here, a lady-friend in distress there — and lets his imagination run wild, egged on by news reports of a serial killer on the loose. Best bud Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and Ashley soon find themselves similarly engrossed in Kale’s game, though they’re not always so willing to accept his wildly implausible conclusions.
One of the chief pleasures of “Disturbia” is the way helmer D.J. Caruso combines old-fashioned suspense techniques with newfangled techno-savvy. Grainy Camcorder footage is exploited to particularly nerve-shredding effect: An ingenious extended sequence in which Ronnie breaks into Turner’s house, while Kale monitors the action via live digital feed, is unnerving precisely because of what it doesn’t show the viewer.
Ellsworth’s previous script, for the Wes Craven-directed “Red Eye,” proved similarly resourceful at wringing thrills and chills from a small-scaled, intensely claustrophobic scenario. Though less stagebound, “Disturbia” shows both integrity and formidable genre smarts, ratcheting up tension and raising pitch-black chuckles while, for the most part, remaining as shackled to the protag’s house as he is. (Kale’s metal ankle-bracelet, which alerts the police if he ventures outside his front yard, is an especially instrumental plot point.)
Playing a character who’s frequently foolish, impulsive and unsympathetic, LaBeouf relies on his sharp wit and sense of mischief to keep the viewer on his side; he’s well matched by the hilarious Yoo, who shows great stoner-comedy potential. And while she disappears for long stretches at a time, Moss wearily conveys a fierce bond with her son that adds an emotional dimension to the pic’s conventional slasher-movie finale.
Although he doesn’t invite sympathy for the devil the way Raymond Burr did in “Rear Window,” Morse makes a seriously creepy (if fairly unambiguous) bad guy with his towering 6’4″ frame and dangerously soft, sickly-sweet voice.
Absent any Hitchcockian layers of viewer implication (here, ogling is a guilt-free pleasure), “Disturbia” shouldn’t be mistaken for much more than a teen movie par excellence. But it’d also be wrong to assume it has nothing on its mind. Pointedly relocated from “Rear Window’s” Greenwich Village apartments to Anytown, USA, pic has slyly resonant things to say about both suburban paranoia (as implied by its generic title) and young Gen-Yers with too much technology on their hands.
Prologue, which contains not one but two of the most sickeningly choreographed car crashes in recent movie memory, effectively sets up Kale’s predicament but could be excised with no harm to the final product.
Exterior locations rep a canny mix of Southern California suburbs. Jim Page’s editing is razor-sharp, while the tense, Bernard Herrmann-esque strings of Geoff Zanelli’s score are suitably sexed up with thuddingly percussive beats and a smattering of rock tunes.