Disturbia lives up to its name only in the location it’s based out of. There is nothing in this film that is entirely disturbing or shocking to see and the quotes splattered across the DVD cover (Peter Hammond needs to stop with his hyperbole comments—this film is nowhere near a “scorching nail-biter”) are nothing but misleading. Of course just because the DVD box (and trailers) paint the film as something it’s not doesn’t mean the film isn’t entertaining.
Kale Brecht (Shia LaBeouf) is going through a tough time. With his father’s passing only a year behind him, Kale is getting into constant trouble and after assaulting his Spanish teacher he is sentenced to three months house arrest (his entire summer vacation, basically). Though the first few days are tame, after his mother cancels his videogames and internet music subscriptions, he’s forced to turn to watching the house that surround him in his neighborhood. While under house arrest, Kale is intrigued by a new neighbor, Ashley (Sarah Roemer).
The story progression of Disturbia is simple and the teenaged cast acts as you expect them to. Kale and his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) spy on Ashley until she ends up half-confronting them one day and a party is thrown at one point in the movie and while it doesn’t ever degrade into a battle of popularity like other movies based on high school characters, it’s certainly got a level of adolescence left to it.
Despite the teenage attitude the film sports, it doesn’t feel the need to brandish it too many times. Although he causes trouble, Kale is seemingly rather mature for his age and the supporting cast does nothing else but bolster up the film. There are few sequences of true tension and horror in the film and over an hour is completely dedicated to the characters and their relationships with one another. All of the characters, even the supporting ones, are fully fleshed out and you become so attached to the films characters from the get go that their ultimate fates are shocking.
As I said before, the film is nowhere near scary. While the dead/decaying bodies could be considered creepy by some, I’ve seen so much of that on Fox shows by now that the shock value of that is lost on me already. Sure, living next door to a serial killer is disturbing and David Morse does a fine job at portraying Mr. Turner as creepy, but the film takes so long to build up to the final reveal that you’re left conflicted by the end. On one hand you want it all to be in Kale’s head that his neighbor is a murderer, as the film sets this up as a possible outcome when it’s said that people under house arrest begin imagining things, but you also begin liking the character so much that you don’t want him seen thrown in the loony bin at the end. Coupled with the somewhat generic slasher-film ending with the chase through the killer’s house, the film goes from a decent half-thriller to a mediocre half-Halloween.
One thing this film does not have in common with other horrible run of the mill horror-fest movies is the acting is all top notch. While I can sadly see a direct-to-video Disturbia II: Disturbia’d Even More coming out of the success of this film, what we got in this first film was a series of genuinely good performances. I’ve always been a fan of Shia LaBeouf and I freely admit to watching him on Even-Stevens, so even before he blew up in Transformers I knew he was fun to watch. Combined with Carrie-Anne Moss (I had no idea she was even in here—she’s nowhere to be seen on the DVD aside from a name in the credit listing, kind of odd for a big name like her), David Morse and Sarah Roemer in her sophomore theatrical appearance, the cast is a solid powerhouse and not a single one of them offended the film in the least with bad acting. Shia and Aaron do a fantastic job with adlibbing scenes and Morse is a perfect serial killer, especially during his quieter scenes.
Combined with an excellent score and modern songs by bands that I don’t hate (System of a Down and Guster? Sound good to me.), the film is filmed brilliantly by D.J. Caruso. The film is more about the characters it contains rather than the serial killer that takes up the last portion of the run time. I’m happy that the film didn’t lose sight of the main attraction of the film (the voyeuristic spying that goes on) like writer Carl Ellsworth previous thriller (Red Eye) did; it could have easily gone in another direction, but with the inclusion of Kale’s friends the film quickly merges into something easy to watch. It may not be much to watch on a second viewing, but the first one is filled plenty of enjoyable character based moments and, admittedly, at least one jump-out-of-your-seat moment. Recommended.
For such a popular film as this, it’s no surprise that the DVD comes decently laden with extras. The cover is a modified version of the original theatrical poster which oddly makes hands look huge in comparison with his head. The rear cover has a neat little blind-lifting image of Shia’s character and the interior of the set is completely bare (no inserts and disc is the usual Paramount matte gray affair). Main menu is animated and features music and are is easy to navigate.
First up on the special features docket is a commentary with director D.J. Caruso and Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer. The commentary is fun to listen to but it basically boils down to Caruso constantly mentioning where things were shot and the “magic” of editing (how is a director who has fifteen entries on IMDb still impressed with the editing process?) and Shia and Sarah are constantly mentioning jokes that took place that leave you feeling like you’re hanging out with a group of people talking about a party you never went to (thank you James Harvey for that description!). Also pairing it with the “Serial Pursuit Trivia Pop-Up Quiz” makes the Pop-Up Quiz seem even lamer than it really is, as all the interesting facts mentioned in the quiz stem from the commentary and the rest of the time it does nothing but manage to spit out useless facts that are rarely relevant to the film. We learn such things as the year the Volkswagen New Beetle was introduced (1998!) and some fact about canned cheese and the direction it sprays in. The super odd thing about the cheese can is I’m pretty sure the moment when this pops up the character is holding a can of whipped crème.
The deleted scenes are made up of mostly extended cuts of existing scenes and are actually worth watching as they add more depth to the characters in the film. There are only a few scenes but most of them feature Carrie-Anne Moss in them, which is nice because her role was already so small in the film. Outtakes are incredibly short and are predominantly Shia-based. It’s kind of weird this reel is so short, as with the amount of ad-libbing that Shia and Aaron claim to have done on the set, it’s curious that this is all we got. Granted there could have been some foul language Paramount didn’t want to include in the set, but the commentary track remains uncensored and Shia lets loose a few F-bombs on there.
A making-of piece is included and is your typical fluff piece with a short run time. Fun to watch for the interviews, but it doesn’t really tell you anything about the film than you already could have guessed from simply watching it. A gallery and music video (“Don’t Make Me Wait” – This World Fair) are included as well.
Video and audio quality on this set is rather nice. Video is clean and clear of artifacting and while I could have sworn a saw a bit of ghosting in a few scenes, it seems to have been limited to those few only, as I didn’t see it crop up anywhere else in the film. Audio makes nice use of surround channels during the thunderstorm sequence, as I quickly noticed that I felt like the thunder was surrounding me, rather than focusing in the front channels like the majority of the film and its dialogue. Horror movies can make the most use out of surround channel mixes as throwing sounds around the room or in the rear left speaker can get the viewer wrapped up in the film almost as much as the characters on the screen. While this film didn’t do an overabundance of that, the thunder surround was a nice touch.
Overall the film is a fun popcorn flick to watch that won’t have much replay in the end. One normal viewing and once with the commentary has me set for this film as I doubt I’ll be watching it again anytime soon—once you know the ending and know how the film was made you don’t have much more to gain from repeat viewings. Horror buffs and fans of LaBeouf (and there will be droves of them if his career keeps going the way it is) will no doubt want to pick this DVD up, but you may want to give it a Rental before permanently adding it to your collection.