Troubled teen Kale Brecht (Shia LaBeouf) goes off the rails a little after his dad is killed in a car crash. He winds up sporting a brand new ankle bracelet, sentenced to spend the summer under house arrest.
With his mom turning into the warden from Shawshank and nixing his iTunes account things are looking pretty grim - that is, until Ashley (Sarah Roemer) moves in next door. She's intrigued by his leg jewellery and pretends not to notice that he sets up an elaborate surveillance operation timed around her daily sunbathing sessions.
But it's the neighbour on the other side of the house who bears watching. Turner (David Morse) seems perfectly normal - but then what serial killer doesn't? Kale becomes suspicious when he notices Turner's car matches the description of a vehicle linked to the case of a missing girl. But it's when he sees Turner bring home a date one evening, and apparently scares her, that alarm bells really go off. Except that he sees the woman leave shortly afterwards, so maybe he's just being paranoid?
In case you haven't deduced it already, the model here is the Hitchcock classic Rear Window. Suburbia has replaced apartment dwelling, and in place of Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly we get a couple of personable but not especially interesting teenagers. (Instead of the great, wisecracking housekeeper Thelma Ritter, we get yet another kid, Aaron Yoo, whose role is essentially to risk his neck while his pal Kale watches from the bedroom window.)
While the new movie is certainly no classic, I don't imagine Hitchcock will be rolling in his family plot - after all, he wasn't above remaking his own films (The Man Who Knew Too Much) or ripping himself off when the occasion arose.
The script is passably witty, and seems positively sophisticated beside LaBeouf's last outing, Transformers. Director DJ Caruso (Taking Lives) does a good job of utilizing modern technology - cell phones, webcams and such - without allowing it to swamp the story, and he paces the revelations with more patience than we usually find in thrillers these days.
It says something for the quality of the performances and the emphasis on characterisation that the film's best scene is not a suspense sequence, but the moment when Kale admits to Ashley he's been spying on her - and she's flattered. It's not particularly original, but it's very sweetly played. This LaBeouf kid has something.
As the movie goes on, Caruso starts turning the screws, putting each of his characters in jeopardy by turn. His scare tactics aren't terribly original either, but at least they're efficient.
Soft-spoken and baby-faced, David Morse is an actor equally adept at playing nice guys and villains. You can see why Kale's mom and the authorities would trust him, and at the same time, how that could be a dreadful mistake.
Unlike Rear Window, Disturbia doesn't really entertain the idea that our hero may be paranoid, nor that his snooping may be morally dubious - let alone root around for any sympathy for the killer. In that sense it's probably a conservative fantasy about homeland security- though it's hard to imagine a suburban neighbourhood in the US these days as open and un-private as this one appears to be.
The OTT climax seems to belong to a different movie, even a different genre, but we haven't had many decent suspense thrillers this year; Disturbia is a cut above.Tom Charity Tom.email@example.com
Titles related to this article