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Disturbia (2007)

Dreamworks Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/7/2007

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/28/2007


In case you haven't noticed it, Hollywood has had "remake fever" as of late. Filmmakers have become quite enamored with taking older films, most considered classics, and making them over again. (This has also occurred quite frequently with foreign films being redone for American audiences.) Recent titles such as The Hitcher, The Omen, and Poseidon immediately jump to mind. A more subtle practice finds films where an old story has been updated and modernized. Such is the case with Disturbia, a modern look at the plot from Hitchcock's Rear Window.

Shia LaBeouf stars in Disturbia as Kale, a troubled young man who is reeling from a family trauma. Depressed and distraught, he assaults his high school Spanish teacher. The judge is lenient and places Kale on house arrest. As further punishment, Kale's mother, Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss), takes away much of his entertainment, such as video games and cable TV. Bored, and ostensibly trapped, Kale begins to spy on his neighbors. This has some intriguing aspects, such as when he notices a new girl, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), move in next door. But, Kale also notices some odd things, such as the suspicious behavior of his neighbor, Mr. Turner (David Morse). Kale also notes that some of the things that he's seen at Turner's match the description of a murderer loose in the area. Recruiting his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and Ashley, Kale begins to monitor Mr. Turner. But, Kale soon learns that some people don't like being watched.

At first glance, it would be very easy to dismiss Disturbia as a Rear Window rip-off. (I read a comment on-line where some moron stated that it wasn't a rip-off of Rear Window, but instead Body Double. Apparently, they didn't realize that Body Double was De Palma's love-letter to Rear Window.) And while there's no doubt that the movie is at the very least, a homage to Rear Window, the movie is more than that. The screenplay by Christopher Landon and Carl Ellswoth has taken the very familiar story and dragged it into the 21st century. Whereas Jimmy Stewart had binoculars and a camera, Kale uses a video camera with a powerful digital zoom to view Mr. Turner. In order to research his neighbor, Kale utilizes the internet. When the time comes for Kale to enlist his friends to infiltrate Mr. Turner's house, they rely on their cell phones, both for the communication and for taking pictures. The story may not have changed all that much, but the way in which the main character becomes a detective has certainly evolved with time.

Director D.J. Caruso, who has an extensive resume in television, does a great job of starting the film off with a bang. (The Disturbia trailer may have given away 80% of the film's ending, but kudos to it for not spoiling the surprising opening.) However, after that, Disturbia drags as we watch Kale deal with his incarceration. Perhaps the intention was for the audience to share in Kale's boredom, but you should never intentionally bore the audience. During this period, we also meet Ashley and learn about her woes at home, which never amount to anything. The mid-section of the film also treats us to the stereotypical "boy who cried wolf" scenarios as Kale tries to convince everyone around him that Mr. Turner is up to something. The film does pick up again during the finale, which certainly pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 in terms of violence. (There are several shots where I was fairly certain that things had been cut.)

As with any film, Disturbia has its share of pros and cons, but in the end, the film's main problem is that it's too lightweight and shallow. The opening and the finale, the truly kinetic and gut-wrenching scenes, are well done. But, the mid-section and the epilogue left me scratching my head. The movie lets Kale convince us that Mr. Turner is a killer, but save for a few clues, we get little more information than that. And if what Kale says is true, who was Mr. Turner able to hide it? And my biggest problem, how did everyone recovery from the emotional scars at the end? I hope that I'm not giving too much away here, but if I went through what the people who survive this film went through, I would need years of therapy.

Disturbia is clearly an updated version of a classic thriller aimed at a younger audience. Caruso is able to make the film teen-friendly without resorting to any MTV-style photography or editing. LaBeouf, who is everywhere these days, is very good in the lead, and is good at conveying both playfulness and bitterness. The movie definitely drags in the middle, but the final reel is exciting. It's easy to see why a younger audience embraced the film and made it a hit, but for most of us, it will make a decent rental.

Disturbia spies on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a nice transfer. The image is sharp and clear showing only a slight amount of grain at times and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, and the action is always visible in the dark scenes. Horizontal lines produced some video noise, but otherwise the image was stable. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are noticeably good and the soundmix provides a nice use of surround sound and subwoofer effects. This isn't a "demo quality" track, but it certainly works for the movie.

The Disturbia DVD contains a handful of extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director D.J. Caruso and stars Shia LeBeouf and Sarha Roemer. This is a fun commentary as the trio eats (Shia eats a whole chicken) and discuss the film. While this isn't a commentary for serious cinephiles, we do learn about the production, and it was interesting to learn which scenes were shot on sets and which were on location. The DVD contains 4 DELETED SCENES, which run about 5 minutes. Three of these focus on Kale's relationship with his mother. "The Making of Disturbia" (15 minutes) is a standard featurette, where we learn that Caruso wanted to make a John Hughes movie which also happened to be a thriller. OK... The other extras are fairly standard with an OUTTAKE reel (90 seconds), a MUSIC VIDEO -- for the song "Don't Make me Wait" by This World Fair --, a PHOTO GALLERY, and the THEATRICAL TRAILER. The film can also be viewed with a "Serial Pursuit Trivia Pop-up/Quiz" option.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long