April 19, 2007

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Disturbia (PG-13)
A bored teen becomes his neighborhood’s watcher and is perhaps witness to a murder in Disturbia, a surprisingly not-awful teen horror movie.

Kale (Shia LaBeouf) is a happy, well-adjusted teen who enjoys the company of his parents in this movie’s opening scenes, which are fraught with tension because we know that can’t last. Naturally, it doesn’t and a fishing trip with his dad ends in a violent car crash that rather dramatically also puts an end to his father. Skip forward several months and Kale is now an angry, sullen teen who doesn’t get along with his mother Julie (Carrie-Ann Moss) and gets along even worse with the Spanish teacher, whom Kale punches in the face after the man makes a comment about his dad. Sentenced to three months of house arrest, Kale is fitted with an ankle bracelet and told to sit tight. After his mom takes away his video games, his iTunes and his TV, Kale starts to get loopy from boredom and takes to checking out the neighbors via binoculars. As he shows his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), he’s pegged which neighbors cheat on their wives and when is the best time to check out his new blonde neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer) sunbathing or otherwise avoiding her parents by hanging out in her backyard.

When she catches them mid-spy, she comes over to taunt them and they try to pass off their Rear-Window-ing as an attempt to learn more about Mr. Turner (David Morse), a quiet neighbor whose car is similar to that of one involved in a recent disappearance of a local woman. As the kids watch him, however, they see more signs of oddness and begin to suspect that he might really be responsible not just for one girl’s disappearance but for several local girls’ disappearances and possible deaths elsewhere. All this spying, however, starts to attract Mr. Turner’s attention and what had been a game turns serious as the kids realize what kind of man they might be messing with.

With other actors, this could have been another insufferable teen suspense flick. But Disturbia got lucky with its casting. LaBeouf is a really charming actor who manages to give at least the appearance of layers to characters that otherwise would have seemed two-dimensional. He is, if such a thing is possible, a teen character actor. Aaron Yoo and Sarah Roemer are also understated, somewhat grubbier versions of teenagers, rather than the over-lip-glossed types that usually populate such movies.

Disturbia is also tolerably well written. It manages moments of humor, some of it even refreshingly dry humor, and it keeps the story relatively restrained for long enough to build some actual suspense. C+

Rated PG-13 for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality. Directed by D.J. Caruso and written by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth, Disturbia is an hour and 44 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.