Disturbia

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Banal Third Act Destroys Disturbia

Apr 15, 2007 (Updated Apr 15, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Interesting premise inspired by Rear Window.

Cons:Terrible decision to turn third act into a slasher movie. Logical inconsistencies. Excessive fake scares.

The Bottom Line: Disturbia is a thoroughly unrewarding thriller that takes the easy way out with a tired ending.


There's a really nice shot early on in Disturbia that provides a glimmer of hope that director DJ Caruso might have a clue. After a harrowing car accident scene, one character escapes from the burning vehicle and rushes to the other side to check on the passenger. Caruso avoids showing a gruesome shot of what happened to the passenger, and instead shows us the horrified reaction of the other character. While this was likely done to achieve a PG-13 rating instead of an R, it still shows a nice instinct that is unfortunately missing from the rest of the film, which takes a premise based on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and throws it away with a third act that owes more to Friday the 13th.

Kale (Shia LaBeouf) is a troubled teenager dealing with his father’s recent death. One day he gets fed up with his teacher and punches him in the face. He avoids jail time but the judge decides to restrict him to house arrest. To enforce the conditions of house arrest, he must wear an ankle bracelet that prevents him from leaving his house. Stuck in his house for the summer, Kale starts to peep through his neighbor’s windows and begins to suspect that the mysterious Mr. Turner (David Morse) might be a serial killer.

The film has a very labored and slow build up to explain the central premise. Even after setting up the reasoning for the ankle bracelet, Caruso must go through a series of teen movie cliches before Kale's mother puts her foot down and cuts off his ability to play XBOX games, his ITunes account, and severs the power cord to the television. Now he watches the neighbors because he's bored, a point that could have been made in about 15 minutes less screen time.

The premise has plenty of potential, but the film severely limits itself by only really focusing on one person in the neighborhood to watch. Sure there is the requisite scene where Kale spies on various people in the neighborhood, noting a few that are having sex or have odd habits. But this is quickly dispensed with as he focuses on Mr. Turner. By doing so, it prevents the chance to give us any real surprise with the ending. It would have been much more interesting, and made the film’s ending seem less mundane, to follow multiple characters through the window.

Disturbia doesn’t have much time for that, because it wants to also tell a story of teen romance. Kale begins to fall for new neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer). To be fair, this doesn’t come off quite as bad as it could have. There is reasonable chemistry between LaBeouf and Roemer. However, this subplot becomes rather pointless as Ashley has very little impact on the outcome of the movie. An interesting thread, involving her emotionally abusive parents seems to have been excised from the film, and she stunningly disappears from sight during the film’s conclusion.

Despite this, there is some reasonable tension created by the central premise. The middle section of the film, where Kale and his friends try to figure out what Mr. Turner is up to, occasionally builds a decent amount of suspense. Unfortunately, Caruso is not interested in a psychological thriller or really doing anything thought provoking. He completely switches gears in the third act and abandons the entire story by turning the film into a slasher movie. And not even a very good one at that. The grand finale is a long sequence that takes place in an elaborate set that could not possibly exist given the character’s history at that house.

Instead of creating a stylish sense of atmosphere and building suspense to create scares, Caruso relies on cheap tactics to get to the viewer. There are numerous moments in Disturbia where a character bumps into someone or is suddenly surprised by another person, creating gasps in the audience. This is fine to do once, but here it is put to excessive use and by the time the 5th fake scare rolled around, it was hard to care about the real ones anymore. There is one sequence that almost works, where Kale’s friend Ronnie goes over to the house to try and find out what is inside a bag, while Kale does lookout duty. Unfortunately this scene is riddled with a number of logical inconsistencies, including Ronnie conveniently disappearing for a short time under circumstances that make absolutely zero sense in retrospect.

The most staggering thing to notice is that this film has received glowing reviews across the board. Respected critics from to David Edelstein to A.O. Scott are raving about this film and it received a 67% score from the Rotten Tomatoes website. It seems odd that this film would be rewarded with such high praise considering it fails at almost every level most critics tend to rate thrillers. I can understand getting wrapped up in the clever high concept premise, but there is no getting around the atrocious third act. If we don't challenge filmmakers to do anything more thoughtful than a slasher movie ending, then we don't deserve any better.


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