I hate nostalgia. It’s an awful quality in human beings, and it’s getting worse as we go further into the 21st century – we’re getting nostalgic for things that happened this week, it seems. No nostalgia drives me as nuts as that for bad things from the 80s, especially bad movies and TV shows. But just because I am as nostalgia-free as possible and realize that dreck like The Goonies is, in fact, dreck, doesn’t mean I don’t remember what it was about those films that I loved so much back in the day. And those things are all over Disturbia – this is a movie that I would have adored when I was 11.
Part of that is because I had not yet seen Rear Window when I was 11. Disturbia doesn’t have a ‘Based on’ or an ‘Inspired by’ credit, so I feel pretty comfortable saying that it rips the Hitchcock movie off, but there’s worse to plagiarize. Instead of being stuck at home with a busted leg like Jimmy Stewart was, star Shia LaBeouf is under house arrest, and an ankle bracelet monitors him at all times. Shia’s not a bad kid, just troubled – in the opening of the movie he’s coming home from a fishing trip with his dad when they’re in a legitimately horrifying car accident. Dad’s killed and Shia’s left with emotional scars that result in him punching out his Spanish teacher (seeing as how Spanish was one of my worst classes in high school, I feel for him).
Instead of a leg cast, he has that ankle bracelet, which lets him move around the house and just outside onto the lawn. At first house arrest is great – junk food and Xbox make up his days – but pretty soon his mom (Carrie Ann Moss, no longer kicking virtual ass these days – she’s just in this movie to be a bitch and get menaced) pulls the plug on all his entertainment and so Shia starts filling his days by spying on the neighborhood. Luckily an unbearably hot girl moves in next door. Unluckily Shia begins to believe that his other neighbor is a psycho killer. He’s played by David Morse, so I feel like there’s not much mystery there.
Disturbia isn’t just ripping off one Hitchcock property, it’s also ripping off the immortal book series Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, which is part of what makes 11-year old Devin so pleased with this film. Shia meets the hottie next door (who is actually turned on by the fact that he’s been spying on her. Kinky!) and teams with her and his comedy relief Asian buddy to look into Morse’s status as a psycho killer. I had been enjoying the movie as a light bit of teen suburbia, but when it kicks into a light bit of teen thriller I found that I liked it even more.
There’s one major thing that Disturbia gets right, and that’s the use of technology. Technology makes a thriller writer’s life harder – when there are cell phone you are never out of touch with the authorities, and when every phone has a camera and a video recorder, it’s pretty easy to gather evidence that your next door neighbor is killing women and stuffing them in the walls. Kids today (get off my lawn!) have access to the kinds of tech that I could only dream about when I was their age, and Disturbia doesn’t play that down – it’s a movie filled with cell phone intrigue, close calls avoided by webcam and video camera sleuthing.
Shia LaBouef is one of those younger actors who can play his age without being precious or annoying, and he doesn’t insist on trying to play a tough guy, which would be ludicrous. Shia’s a good actor, and while he doesn’t have enough scenes opposite Morse, he holds his own against a very heavy presence. Morse is endlessly typecast as the bad guy, but that’s only because he does it so well; his psycho begins insinuating himself into Shia’s mom’s life, and he manages a perfect Eddie Haskell demeanor that only we and Shia can see through.
Even Shia’s helpers deliver decent enough performances. Sarah Roemer’s ass should get its own credit, to be sure, but she actually holds her own as a character, and Aaron Yoo’s goofy sidekick is good for a chuckle or two (although he pulls an elaborate prank at the end that just makes no sense and makes him deserve a curbing).
DJ Caruso almost redeems himself with Disturbia; Caruso is the man behind one of the worst movies in recent memory, Taking Lives, but here he takes a PG-13 movie into some seriously tense thriller territory. I don’t want to oversell this film, but Disturbia works, and part of that is because the pacing and scares, which are well-constructed. It’s a tricky act to juggle the suburban teen stuff with the killer next door stuff, and Caruso pulls it off.
The truth is that Disturbia isn’t your first choice this weekend if you’re in your 20s or older, but for the crowd who are about the same age as Shia and the gang, this is great Friday night material. And it’s the perfect kind of scary movie to take Mary Jane Rottencrotch from your third period English class – she’ll be grabbing your hand throughout and maybe on the way home you’ll get a chance to tangle your braces together.