By David Germain
The filmmakers are quick to acknowledge “Rear Window” as a forerunner for the voyeurism of “Disturbia,” a thriller about a housebound teenager convinced his neighbor’s a serial killer.
What they don’t have to say is that “Disturbia” is no “Rear Window,” because you already knew that.
“Rear Window” was Alfred Hitchcock, James Stewart and Grace Kelly. “Disturbia” is director D.J. Caruso (“Two for the Money,” “The Salton Sea”), and stars Shia LaBeouf and relative newcomer Sarah Roemer.
Comparisons between “Rear Window” and “Disturbia” end with the plot similarity of apartment-bound Stewart spying on a neighbor he believes murdered his wife. Of course, “Disturbia” is not going to measure up to that classic of cloistered paranoia.
Yet “Disturbia” is a decent enough thriller that’s far smarter than most big studio flicks with teen protagonists. The movie’s completely predictable, but LaBeouf comes off as a sturdy leading man with one of his most assured performances yet, while Caruso crafts some mildly clever moments of suspense.
The menacing presence of David Morse as the suspect neighbor adds enormously to the gravity and tension of “Disturbia.” The great thing about Morse is he can play nice guys and evil guys in almost precisely the same way, and they’re equally believable.
That keeps the audience guessing a bit, though you pretty much see early on in the screenplay by Carl Ellsworth (“Red Eye”) where things are heading.
“Disturbia” opens with a prologue in which young Kale enjoys a pleasant day of fishing and bonding with his dad. Tragedy hits on the way home, dad is killed, and a year later, Kale’s a sullen slacker, losing his temper and punching out a teacher who makes an offhand remark about his father.
Kale is placed under house arrest at the home he shares with his mom (Carrie-Anne Moss). An electronic ankle bracelet monitors his location, tipping off the authorities if Kale gets more than 100 feet (30.5 meters) from the house.
Bored to death, Kale becomes a Peeping Tom, spying on his neighbors, particularly the beautiful girl who’s just moved in next door, rebellious Ashley (Roemer). Ashley and Kale’s pal Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) eventually are recruited into our hero’s surveillance of the loner Turner (Morse), whom Kale thinks could be a much-publicized killer stalking beautiful women.
Hitchcock used the lavish urban block constructed for “Rear Window” to great advantage, the detail and close quarters helping to create a mood of claustrophobic drama and desperation.
The neighborhood in “Disturbia” just looks like an anonymous suburb, a clean, pleasant, dull place to live.
Part of the filmmakers’ point is that any old crazy person might be lurking behind the drawn curtains of the house next to you in just such an anonymous locale. It makes for a very limiting, boring place to set a movie, though.