With all the promise to be the year’s best teen scream flick, “Disturbia” gets lost while overly trying to please its demographic. The film’s intro alone is worthy of the title, when a ride home after an idyllic day of fly-fishing between father and son turns tragic. Yet the film soon tries to digest teen sex comedy and romance into a thriller plot, after its protagonist, Kale (Shia LaBeouf, who in better roles is becoming a young Dustin Hoffman), receives house arrest for assaulting his teacher.
Kale’s predicament epitomizes teen angst, for sure. Thoroughly bored after his mom (“The Matrix’s” Carrie-Ann Moss, now in MILF mode) cancels his I-Tunes and video game accounts, he grabs binoculars and a video camera to perch at a “Rear Window.” His sights are set on his new, kittenish neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer, not much more than a walking prop), before he teams up with her and his friend to stakeout another neighbor (David Morse), who they suspect is the killer in recent news.
The teen comedy clichés, such as slacker exploits and male gazing (the director’s too), nearly drown out the plot midway. The film attempts to build suspense through a series of red herrings, none of them clever enough to construct a thriller. “Disturbia” works best when dishing out shocks, which are – until an absurd climax involving a suburban horror chamber (!) – a cut above the current sadistic trend of horror. Working opposite Morse, who’s as creepy as ever, LaBeouf realizes the panic of an innocent with too much curiosity for his own good. As many scares hit a raw nerve, we are left puzzled why screenwriters Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth didn’t commit to a suburban gothic. The film is cloyed with bubble gum for other teen demographics, and may very well leave young horror fans feeling cheated.
In DVD format, “Disturbia’s” scares can’t inspire the film’s weak structure, which seemed more effective to giddy theater audiences duped by the “Dawson’s Creek” interludes. The film’s spatial treatment is also lost on the small screen, which constricts the dimensions of Kale’s neighborhood and the interior chase sequences. As the DVD arrives for summer viewers, we’re reminded that weaker endeavors in suspense are best served as a communal experience at the theater.
The disc includes an amusing commentary with Director D.J. Caruso and his two young stars. Caruso gives background to different scenes while mixing it up with the wisecracking Shia, who reminds us that there’s just a kid behind the mature performances in his recent roles. He offers insight about his motivation one minute while cheering at the onscreen action the next. Roemer is barely present, though she and Shia describe their frightening experiences working with method actor Morse, who remained in character on the set. Aside from an asinine “Pop Up Video”-style trivia feature, the remaining extras – including a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and outtakes – are take-’em-or-leave-’em, and not nearly enough to save this release.