Thriller Piles on Suspense
Smart, slick and exciting, director D.J Caruso's Disturbia is a firm thriller from start to finish. Shia LaBeouf taps upper middle class malaise as a high school kid name Kale with serious anger issues, bubbling up after his dad is killed in an accident.

That particular smash-up is one of many white knuckle moments in this stylishly suspenseful story, a knowing nod to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, complete with an animal in the garden, incorporating ingredients from The Silence of the Lambs. That's a compliment, for a change, and Caruso uses the cast and the camera to create one spine-tingling block of suburbia.

Of course, smart aleck Kale—who hauls off on a teacher and is smacked by the cops with an ankle bracelet for the summer—disparagingly calls it Disturbia, but it's still Hollywoodland, populated with the usual suspects and subplots. None of this gets in the way of popcorn-munching tension. Kale's stinky room is a disaster, video games and cell phones are always on, and his mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) has had it up to here with him.

In short, Kale is kid-out-of-control, trying to make sense of growing up without a father, fiddling with a gaming joystick and hating the rules. Helping his adjustment is new neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who favors bikinis and stripping with the blinds open. The nightly peep show puts Kale in the habit of taking in the entire neighborhood with his fancy binoculars—this kid has everything that makes a noise—and playing viewmaster.

What's in his range is relatively tame, at least for a while, and much of Disturbia is spent setting up the eye-popping final quarter. But as he focuses on a bulky stranger (David Morse), who drives a blue Mustang like one mentioned on the news, Kale becomes an amateur sleuth with time on his hands and a handicap on his leg—shades of Rear Window again, minus Thelma Ritter's wry touch—and, involving the girl and his best bud (Aaron Yoo), he tracks suspicious coincidences.

Is Kale compensating for his absent father, especially since his mom seems to like the new guy? Tune into this frequency to find out, as a fight with the girlfriend, a roaming parole officer and that blasted ankle thing come into play in what's either a teen-aged dark fantasy or a nightmare come to life, with Kale as a lost—or intelligent—youth who lives down the lane.

Incongruities are numerous, from a mother whose parenting philosophy appears to be sink-or-swim to the Boogeyman himself, whose livelihood is never disclosed, despite an apparently unlimited amount of spare time and the sexiest visitors in town. But Caruso builds it slowly, from Kale breathing in the scent of his dead father's home office to creaky floors and dingy crawl spaces that dredge the memory of every killer profiled on cable.

As the menacing neighbor, Morse hits pay dirt, playing it down and putting the disturb in Disturbia. This picture packs it in, from iPods, cell phone cameras and frantic laptop configurations to what's hiding in the closet and short, jumpy shocks for thrills, but it's never more scary in a fun way than when Kale—paranoid or should be—is tiptoeing through the darkened house, pleading, "Mom?", pausing, "Mm—om?" For suspense, Disturbia works the volume, up and down.

DVD Notes

Director D. J. Caruso mostly hands the microphone to the highly touted Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer, appearing in her second movie, during the audio commentary for Disturbia's DVD. We learn that the young actor's name is pronounced "shy-uh," listen to the trio eat food and hear about a pet slaughter suffered by the young actress as a child. Later, LaBeouf's cell phone rings and it's none other than Steven Spielberg.

They do get around to discussing the tense, humorous thriller that scored a hit earlier this year, though except for Roemer's Silence of the Lambs massacre, the pointless digressions feel scripted. Other features compensate for the deficiency. They're relatively thin—the longest bit is 14 minutes—and the back of the box is stacked with the usual filler titles, but fans are likely to find something to appreciate.

Among the bright spots: Caruso talks about his intention to combine the comedy of a John Hughes movie with a thriller and he includes four deleted scenes, the majority of them mother-son exchanges, which shows how he aimed for, and largely achieved, character credibility. Less successful is an optional pop-up trivia track for the movie which pops encyclopedia facts without citing sources. Also included: outtakes and a music video by This World Fair.