The key to a remake, particularly when the inspiration is a Hitchcock masterwork like “Rear Window,” is to pay just the right amount of homage to the original without replicating it frame by frame. “Disturbia,” which replaces a suffocating apartment complex with the lush dysfunction of suburbia, manages to do justice to the 1954 classic, while ramping up the action for today’s standards.
Since there’s little traditional suspense (the audience witnesses the crime before the main characters find out about it), building anticipation is crucial. Director D.J. Caruso, who is no stranger to the action genre, delivers a tense, yet restrained, dose of dread.
Too often the makers of modern suspense thrillers give in to the bloodlust of a desensitized populace and leave nothing to the imagination. As any Hitchophile knows, the illustrated is never as terrifying as the suggested, and nonstop violence is less effective than terror that builds, ebbs and flows.
Screenwriters Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth have transformed photographer L.B. Jeffries into teen delinquent Kale (Shia LaBeouf), who finds himself confined to his house with an electronic anklet after assaulting his teacher. Unlike in “Rear Window,” the audience is given an extensive look into the background of Kale, who began his downward spiral into delinquency after the car crash that killed his father.
The first indication that this is no ordinary summertime slasher flick is the expression that crosses LaBeouf’s face when he peers into the shattered window of the flipped family car to see his father — the camera stays on his face to show the innocence leaving his hazel eyes. LaBeouf has come a long way from his “Even Stevens” character, quickly approaching Ryan Phillippe’s good looks and Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ credibility.
Fast forward a year to the beginning of summer. Kale has resigned himself to three months of boredom, enlivened only by spying on his neighbors, which he soon has down to a timed art, and visits from his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo).
His first noteworthy discovery is Ashley (Sarah Roemer), the vixen moving in next door, who, though no Grace Kelly, is perfectly adequate as love interests go. She ignites hormones and provides a distraction from Kale’s grief; the disappointment of his mother, Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss); and the murders being committed by Kale’s creepy neighbor, Mr. Turner (a frightening David Morse). Unfortunately Ashley exhibits none of the more compelling traits Kale says he’s observed by watching her do yoga or read on the roof.
Roemer is merely eye candy, clad in revealing bikinis and tight jeans from costume designer Marie-Sylvie Deveau that lack the charm of the romantic Edith Head creations in which Grace Kelly’s character floated. The original music by Geoff Zanelli is chilling and the song list chosen by the filmmakers, from Guster to Buckcherry, creates a great summer soundtrack on Kale’s iPod.
Since few viewers are going to be completely unfamiliar with the plot, there’s no question about Turner’s guilt, only about how the inevitable confrontation between the scary neighbor and those meddling kids will go down. And go down it does, with enough violence to be scary, but not so much that it becomes clichéd or overdone.
Though still more graphic than Hitchcock would have allowed, “Disturbia” contains enough old-school artistry — particularly in the work of cinematographer Rogier Stoffers — to justify the heightened altercation. “Disturbia” is a near-perfect summer thriller, providing an example of what makes a classic horror film to a generation overexposed to bloodbaths, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
“Disturbia” was written by Carl Ellsworth and Christopher B. Landon, and directed by D.J. Caruso.
“Disturbia” received three out of four stars.