Disturbia (2007)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse
Extras: Commentary Track, Trivia Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Outtakes, Music Video, More

As the horror-remake cycle exhausts the popular hits of the 1970s and 80s, it is inevitable that filmmakers will eventually reach back to classical Hollywood for inspiration. Based on a script that has been floating around since the late 1990s, "Disturbia" updates the premise of Hitchcock's "Rear Window" (1954) to 21st century suburbia. Unlike so many of the current teen thrillers, however, this film hits several right notes along its way, providing some good chills and a decent story.

After punching one of his teachers during class, high school student Kale Brecht (Shia LaBeouf) is placed under three month's house arrest in lieu of juvenile detention. Forced to spend the summer pent up inside, he initially finds the punishment a smooth ride with easy access to his cell phone, TV, Xbox, and computer. When his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) begins canceling his accounts, Kale starts to feel the burden of incarceration. With no other outlets, he turns his attention outside his windows to the neighborhood activity. Over several days of spying with his binoculars, Kale keeps close watch on each of his nearby neighbors, particularly the new girl next door (Sarah Roemer) who spends much of her time either walking around the pool in her bikini or undressing in front of an uncovered window.

Another of his favorite targets is Mr. Turner (David Morse), a single man with an eye for young redheads. What catches Kale's eye is the fact that Turner uncannily matches the description of an unknown killer whose abductions of young women have made national news. Kale has no trouble convincing his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) of his suspicions, and Ashley (the hot girl next door) quickly joins their little watch group as well. They become convinced that Turner has indeed committed a murder right in front of them when they see him dragging what appears to be a bloody body bag into his garage in the middle of the night. Using cellphones, digital cameras, and sound equipment, the three systematically follow Turner and search his property, with the confined Kale overseeing the operation ("Operation Stupid") from his bedroom. The only problem is that Turner seems to have caught on to their scheme.

For anyone who is even vaguely familiar with "Rear Window," this storyline should immediately ring a bell. Hitchcock's film was a veritable celebration of voyeurism, something that Hitch explored throughout his entire career. Voyeurism is once again a key theme in this film, but director D.J. Caruso truly brings home the idea that we have become an increasingly voyeuristic society. Screens dominate our lives, from our TVs to our computers and even to our cell phones, and we are constantly watching someone else. From reality TV to YouTube, the mass media continually feed into our desire to see what other people are doing behind closed doors. Our very connection to the outside world seems to be dominated by our access to media outlets, and this is strikingly reflected in Caruso's film. As Kale expresses when he introduces Ronnie to his neighborhood spying, "it's like reality without the TV."

On a level of pure suspense, the film works surprisingly well, much better than the majority of teen-oriented fright films that rely so heavily on cheap scares and gore. There are some really well-mounted scenes of suspense that have a nice build-up without leading to a big jolt. In particular is a rather complex scene in which Ashley follows Turner around a store, keeping Kale aware of his whereabouts with her cellphone camera, while Ronnie breaks into Turner's car for evidence. Unfortunately, the film takes a rather bad turn around the last 25 minutes with a burst of heretofore unseen violence that, in light of the preceding events, really makes no sense and seems to occur solely to satisfy the target teen audience's hunger for mindless action.

Another weak element is the clumsily developed romance between Kale and Ashley. Caruso has explained that he was trying to evoke the spirit of a John Hughes-esque 1980s romance, but Hughes and Hitchcock simply do not mix. Kale's sappy declaration of love for Ashley, in addition to seeming completely out of place, is really just a distraction from what is otherwise a fairly enjoyable, if lightweight, thriller. The movie works much better when it sticks to the face-off between its spatially-limited hero and his video-mediated suspect.

Coming to DVD from Dreamworks Home Entertainment, "Disturbia" looks fantastic in its 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image is pristine and sharp, with no noticeable artifacts. The film's sleek color schemes are beautifully rendered with boldly saturated colors, and black levels are solid. Especially great are the opening shots of mountain vistas.

The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX track that perfectly accentuates the late action sequences, as well as an early (and unnecessary) car accident. These scenes make excellent use of the rear-channel surround for maximum effect. Music is given a good boost and some added intensity, while dialogue remains clear and natural in the front channels.

We are given the options of both an audio commentary with director Caruso and stars Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer and a trivia track with pop-up facts. To save time, I applied both of them together, and this revealed a bit of repetitiveness in them. The trivia track, when not repeating information from the commentary, is of little interest, except for those viewers who do not know that deer meat is called venison or that the music score is used to build tension. The commentary is easy-going and occasionally informative, but it frequently becomes a little too jokey (especially with LaBeouf) for my taste. Something that really annoyed me was the fact that Caruso kept receiving calls on his cell phone throughout, once from his wife, once from his agent, and once from Aaron Yoo. Whether this was planned as some kind of elaborate joke or not, I cannot tell, but it ultimately just got on my nerves.

Four deleted scenes are offered, all basically extensions of scenes that are in the movie. They are all exposition and provide some interesting character interactions.

A 15-minute making-of featurette follows, giving us lots of behind-the-scenes footage along with interviews with the cast and crew. This is a fairly routine effort, with little information that isn't in the commentary.

Next up are about a minute and a half of unfunny outtakes, followed by a music video for "Don't Make Me Wait" by This World Fair. A photo gallery and trailer round things out.

"Disturbia" is probably one of the best teen thrillers of late because it avoids (in its first two-thirds at least) pandering to its audience and builds some genuine suspense. D.J. Caruso manages to slip in some sly commentary on contemporary society's obsession with the media, effectively opening up the themes explored by Hitchcock and taking them to a new and more current level. Though not without its weak points, when the film works, it really delivers.