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DISTURBIA (article first published : 2007-09-28)

If for nothing else, this teen re-imagining of Alfred Hitchock’s great success, The Rear Window, will be noted for marking another lesson in versatility from promising young actor Shia LeBeouf, altogether different in both Transformers and Bobby and marked as Harrison Ford’s sidekick in the upcoming fourth Indiana Jones adventure.

He displays a compelling screen presence and moulds a believable character in Disturbia which, directed by D J Caruso, also features towering David Morse and The Matrix’s Carrie-Ann Moss.

There’s no doubt the film is nowhere near the par of Hitchcock’s 1954 success. It’s no classic teen film either. But it is a solid, fairly captivating thriller that towers above most of the shoddy youth product that has been spewed out of Hollywood so far this year.

LeBeouf plays Kale, a likeable 17-year-old who loses his father in a tragedy that comes as a surprise and quite a strikingly realised shock in the opening sequence. The experience traumatises the boy to the point that he becomes sullen, withdrawn and ends up punching his Spanish teacher, leading a judge to sentence Kale to a three-month house arrest.

The teenager is forced to wear an ankle bracelet which beeps and sends the cops running whenever he steps beyond his home’s front lawn. So Kale spends his summer watching TV and playing video games – blatant product placement here – before his mom (an underused and dull Moss) gets the needle and cancels his subscription, leaving Kale to do mind-numbing things like build a tower of Twinkies.

When new neighbours move in, however, bored Kale turns to surveying the pretty teen daughter (the purely decorative Sarah Roemer) whenever she disrobes or goes for a swim. He also starts to survey other things in the neighbourhood – like the small boys who watch an adult movie channel when their parents think they’re watching cartoons; and the man who has sexual romps with his maid whenever his wife is out.

Then, with assistance from the girl next door, whom he eventually befriends, and his onetime buddy Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), Kale starts a more intensive surveillance on a particularly creepy neighbour, Mr Turner (Morse), whom the trio suspects could be a murderer. Not only does he have the same dented 60s Mustang as a killer that has been making the news, but he drags bulky things in black bags into his garage at night …

Whereas Jimmy Stewart, in The Rear Window, had to make do with only binoculars and a telescopic lens for his long-range detective work, LaBeouf makes use of a cellphone, an iPod, a digital camcorder, live video feeds and the internet.

Slow to start, but drawing us in with its build in tension, Disturbia works well until its final half-hour or so, when, disappointingly, it can’t resist the temptation to scamper into slasher territory, climaxing with a truly ludicrous showdown that leads to multiple narrow escapes.

However, it will probably satisfy most of today’s youth, the majority of whom are unlikely even to have heard of the superior Hitchcock variation. (7/10) – Billy Suter




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