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DreamWorks presents

Disturbia (2007)

"I'm not a stalker. These are just simple observations, natural side effects of chronic boredom."- Kale (Shia LaBeouf)

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss
Other Stars: Aaron Yoo, Matt Craven
Director: D.J. Caruso

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality
Run Time: 01h:44m:27s
Release Date: 2007-08-07
Genre: suspense thriller

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+AA B

 

DVD Review

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but filmmakers who try to imitate Alfred Hitchcock usually come up short. Way short. (And that includes Gus Van Sant, who took the idea to a fare-thee-well with his misguided shot-for-shot remake of Psycho back in 1998.) So when I first saw the trailer for Disturbia several months ago, I didn't hold out much hope that an adolescent re-imagining of Rear Window could even begin to approach the revered original. Yet just to make sure I wasn't a Hitchcock snob, I decided to view the two films on successive nights, so I could accurately compare them.

And the verdict? While Disturbia doesn't threaten the lofty legacy of Rear Window, it's a surprisingly nifty thriller with a breezy style and a few wicked jolts sure to raise the pulse rate of even the most jaded suspense junkies. In the crowded teens-in-jeopardy genre, D.J. Caruso's film rises above its competition, thanks in part to a tightly woven script that steers clear of stock-in-trade twists, and straightforward direction that deftly mixes humor, romance, and typical teen high jinks with grisly horror. Credit must also go to Shia LaBeouf—Hollywood's hottest (and most natural) young actor—for incisively depicting the brashness, angst, and raging hormones that make American male teenagers a species unto themselves.

Though Caruso and company understandably wish to distance Disturbia from Hitchcock's masterwork, there's no mistaking the blatant similarities. (And I can't fathom why the filmmakers refuse to own up to them—but more on that below.) Instead of a broken leg, a leg iron (in the form of a house arrest monitor) keeps the recalcitrant Kale (LaBeouf) from leaving his suburban home after he assaults his teacher at school. And just like James Stewart's wheelchair-bound photojournalist, Kale resorts to spying on his neighbors to pass the time. He's titillated by Ashley (Sarah Roemer), the comely girl next door, but soon becomes obsessed with Mr. Turner (David Morse), a brooding mystery man with the same white hair and burly physique as Raymond Burr's creepy Lars Thorwald—but, it turns out, a lot more sinister.

News reports claim there's a serial killer on the loose in suburbia, and a few telltale clues lead Kale to believe Mr. Turner just might be the elusive felon. But before he can involve the police, he needs hard evidence, and enlists Ashley and best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) to do some detective work. The two attack their duties with the same giddy enthusiasm as Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter (and face similar dangers), while an agonized Kale breathlessly monitors their activities from the security of his upstairs bedroom. But when Mr. Turner begins to sense Kale might be on to him, a deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Aside from LaBeouf's fine work, the menacing Morse adds subtle shadings to enhance his cardboard villain, while the lovely Carrie-Anne Moss supplies a healthy quotient of tough love in her maternal role. Roemer strongly resembles Gwyneth Paltrow, but can't yet compete with her dramatic abilities, and consequently can't break out of her character's eye-candy mold. Better suited to the shenanigans, Yoo exhibits a goofy immaturity that's alternately ingratiating and annoying, but his considerable comedic skills help cut the tension at key moments.

Despite its multiple connections to Rear Window, Disturbia manages to separate itself from the Hitchcock classic and stand on its own as a taut, entertaining exercise. The adolescent slant lends the story a fresh angle and adds significant subtext, while the high-tech gadgetry at Kale's disposal makes the voyeurism all the more fascinating. Unfortunately, the over-the-top climax—though exciting and well filmed—strains credulity, but such is the nature of contemporary suspense cinema. Caruso plays down a bit to his target audience, but the film's resultant box office success validates such a decision. Still, adults (especially the beleaguered parents of teens) will find plenty with which to identify—and much to enjoy—in this well-crafted, claustrophobic thriller.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Though certainly not as crisp and vibrant as its HD-DVD counterpart, the standard def version of Disturbia looks very good indeed, with deep, rich colors, rock solid black levels, and perfectly tuned fleshtones. Contrast and shadow detail also earn high marks, and a spotless source print with only a hint of grain lends the image a marvelous sheen.

Image Transfer Grade: A
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
EX
English, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 EX track ratchets up the suspense with excellent directionality and a wide dynamic range. Subtleties and ambient effects are finely rendered, dialogue is always crystal clear, and the active music soundtrack enjoys superb fidelity. Best of all, the track is well integrated, keeping the surround activity seamless and, as a result, our attention glued to the on-screen drama.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Stardust, Blades of Glory, Next
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director D.J. Caruso, actors Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtakes
  2. Don't Make Me Wait music video
  3. Photo gallery
Extras Review: I've listened to countless audio commentaries in my day, but the track laid down by director D.J. Caruso and actors Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer is definitely the worst I've heard. The trio flagrantly disrespects their audience by incessantly goofing around and spouting little substantive information. First and foremost, can someone please teach this crew some manners? Caruso takes three or four cell phone calls (!) during the commentary (and chews the fat for what seems like an eternity), while LaBeouf talks on quite a few occasions with his mouth chockfull of food. And why does Roemer feel compelled to share with us the details of her horrific bouts with PMS?! Nobody even mentions Rear Window or Hitchcock, or intimates Disturbia's main idea is anything less than utterly original. Now what's up with that? At one point, Roemer airily quips, "We're all so Hollywood!", which must be code for "ignorant," "egotistical," and "self-absorbed." I really respected the cast and filmmaker before listening to this mess of a track; I don't anymore.

More entertaining (and, shockingly, more enlightening) is the Serial Pursuit Trivia Pop-Up/Quiz, in which relevant—and irrelevant—factoids, as well as a few pop culture questions, appear on the screen throughout the film. The origin of peeping toms, the history of tie-dyeing and Twinkies, and the contributions of Steven Spielberg are only some of the info bytes that crop up during this surprisingly addictive track.

Three of the four deleted scenes (which total four-and-a-half minutes) feature the underused Carrie-Anne Moss, and provide subtle bits of non-essential character development, while the 15-minute cookie-cutter featurette, The Making of Disturbia, addresses our current voyeuristic culture and how high-end technology makes it oh-so-easy to spy on our neighbors. The cast and crew discuss the supportive on-set atmosphere, praise director Caruso, and salute the villainous charm of David Morse, while extensive behind-the-scenes footage offers an insider's view of how various sequences were shot. Pretty generic stuff, but interesting nonetheless.

A ho-hum 90-second outtake reel; the four-minute music video for Don't Make Me Wait by This World's Fair; a photo gallery featuring 47 color portraits, scene shots, and candids; and the film's original theatrical trailer complete the disc supplements.

Extras Grade: B
 

Final Comments

Disturbia may not be as disturbing as some teen thrillers, but this Rear Window wannabe will certainly make us all think twice about leaving our shades up. The updated story is cleverly told, and solid performances and slick direction make it an above-average piece of popcorn entertainment. Pristine transfers help us get lost in the action, but by all means skip the awful commentary track. Recommended.

David Krauss 2007-08-14