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Disturbia (8/10)

by Tony Medley

What is it with the people who write titles these days? One of legendary director Frank Capra’s first jobs in the industry was writing titles to films. Then, the title was one of the main draws. Today, however, apparently the titling of a film is in the hands of imbeciles. One good film has already been sentenced to the trash heap because of a horrible title, Blake Snake Moan, and idiotic publicity.

Now comes this film, with a title that makes one think it’s another gothic horror film like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Titles like this threaten box office, possibly keeping people away in the same droves that stayed away from Black Snake Moan, which has brought in a little over $9 million to date. If that happens it would be too bad because this is a very good thriller.

It’s of the Rear Window (1954) genre where someone is housebound and spies on his neighbors. Despite its amazing cast, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, and Raymond Burr, and director Alfred Hitchcock, I thought it was terribly slow, without Hitchcock’s touches that can make certain seemingly ordinary scenes inordinately suspenseful. The only one I remember in Rear Window is when Raymond Burr looks out his window and sees Jimmy Stewart watching him.

Disturbia is akin to Rear Window in that the first half is pretty slow. Kale (Shia LaBeouf), a teenager, has been sentenced to house arrest, so he can’t be more than 150 feet from the tracking machine in his home. He passes the time by keeping his room as dirty as possible and spying on his neighbors with binoculars. He sees, then meets, beautiful next door neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer) and has his buddy, Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) come over to keep him company. There’s a serial killer on the loose and because of what Kale sees, he suspects that it’s his neighbor, Mr. Turner (a scary David Morse, in an Oscar nomination-deserving turn), whom Kale suspects is doing all the killing. But is he? Kale and Ashley and Ronnie decide to try to find out.

The script (Carl Ellsworth, from a story by Christopher Landon) follows Rear Window pretty faithfully, including the slow first 45-minutes. But director D.J. Caruso really applies the gas for the final half of the film during which there is almost constant tension, especially after Mr. Turner gets involved with Kale’s mother, Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss). Since this story has been done before, it takes talent to make it scary and keep up the tension. Caruso is up to it, aided by exceptional cinematography (Rogier Stoffers) and spectacular set design (Tom Southwell) of Mr. North’s house.

The last half more than makes up for what I thought was a draggy first half. I hesitate to call it “Hitchcockian,” because I think it’s even better than that.

April 9, 2007