Starring: Shia LaBoeuf, Sarah Roemer, Aaron Yoo
Director: D.J. Caruso
Running Time: 105 mins
Disturbia is an American film about a teenager living under house arrest who becomes convinced that the man living opposite him is a serial killer.
While I didn’t find Disturbia a particularly awful film, it’s a really frustrating movie to watch right the way through. Not only does it fail to keep a focused vision of its plot throughout, jumping between teen romance and murder mystery at seemingly random intervals, but there’s always the lingering thought that the story can be, and has been, done far better – with Alfred Hitchcok’s classic Rear Window.
Of course, you’d have to be mad to go into this film expecting something on the same level as Rear Window, but with an almost identical premise – I was expecting the film to be at least an intensely suspenseful watch, simply because the story is such a good one.
Now, I will say that Disturbia does have its moments. I wouldn’t call any of it particularly intense or suspenseful, but there are a few sequences particularly in its opening act where there’s still a bit of mystery about, as we see Shia LaBoeuf slowly losing his head inside his house, and becoming convinced that some very dark things are going on around him.
Another positive is that there is a bit of character depth that does at least make our leads somewhat likable. The film spends a little too long on LaBoeuf’s character’s backstory, not getting to the crux of the excitement quickly enough, but that does at least serve well to help you understand his frame of mind throughout the film, and sympathise with him to a degree that I definitely wasn’t expecting at first.
The big problem is that this is a story that doesn’t actually need character depth prioritised, because it should be all about the tension. Making the characters a bit more likable serves well in the random breaks of romance between LaBoeuf and the girl next door, but when it comes to the actual thrills of spying on the neighbours and formulating theories and suspicions about them, it’s all a bit of a waste of time.
Think about Rear Window. We know that James Stewart’s character is a photographer with an adventurous past, and that he’s been cooped up in his apartment for a long while with his broken leg. That’s about it, but that gave the film a much clearer head when it comes to the mystery/thriller aspect of the story, something that Disturbia can’t quite seem to grasp.
Throughout, I was regularly frustrated by the rather basic and predictable manner in which the mystery of the man across the way unfolded. Although the premise is rather similar to Rear Window throughout, the big difference here lies in the way the film is directed.
Hitchcock prioritised ambiguity, as James Stewart watches across the way, but never has quite enough evidence to really pin down the fact that his neighbour is a murderer. With that ingenious flat-style image, and only the telescope bringing us closer as we stay exclusively in the apartment with Stewart, the way in which tension was created in that film was exceptional, because we were left just as puzzled and powerless as the main character righ the way through.
In this film, however, D.J. Caruso uses a more generic filming style that makes our young lead’s suspicions a lot easier to jump to, as a result really dulling the tension of the mystery at hand, because the outcome just seems really obvious from all of the various revelations throughout that create short-term drama, but no tension to last throughout.
And the worst part, by a mile, is the fact that we leave the confines of the room that the teen is spying from. On numerous occasions. In that, the disconnect from the man across the way is destroyed, meaning your suspicions no longer rest solely on what our main character has seen, while it really ruins the tension of what should be some of the story’s most intense moments.
Overall, Disturbia is a film that has its moments. It’s never a particularly exciting watch, and that’s its biggest downfall, but with good characters and a couple of fun thrills, it can be a good watch. However, when effectively remaking an all-time classic like Rear Window, from one of the greatest directors of all time, things are always going to come up short, and prove a real frustration for viewers, which is why I’m giving this a 6.6.