Disturbia (2007)

The world of Rear Window riffs & remakes is a strange, fascinating realm that defies much of what you might expect from Hitchcock-inspired cinema. Outside of a few straightforward Rear Window riffs that keep the original’s story firmly housed in the thriller genre, films like the 1998 made-for-TV remake starring Christopher Reeve or De Palma’s Body Double, a lot of works that pull influence from the Hitchcock classic stray far from its murder mystery roots. What Lies Beneath hammers the film’s obsessive voyeurism into the shape of a ghost story. Addicted to Love and Head Over Heels focus on its gender politics humor and forge the unthinkable: the Rear Window romcom. Perhaps most oddly, though, the 2007 Shia LaBeouf vehicle Disturbia rehashed Rear Window into a late-in-the-game version of the late 90s slasher typified in titles like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend. In fact, the movie was pitched in those films’ heyday, only to be pushed back when word got out that the Christopher Reeve version of Rear Window was in production. Although the idea of rehashing Rear Window as a late 90s slasher is just as absurd as molding it into a romcom, Disturbia is strangely the only one of these Rear Window riffs that was sued for infringing on the rights of the short story “It Had to Be Murder,” the source material for the Hitchcock classic. The case was ultimately dismissed because the similarities were too broad, which is actually indicative of how Disturbia matches the power & the humor of the Hitchcock work: barely, if at all.

I don’t have a lot of experience with Shia LaBeouf as an actor, so I can only recognize him working in one of two modes: American Honey mode and Transformers mode. In American Honey mode, LaBeouf is a Serious Artist who uses his natural charisma as a sleazy snake oil salesmen to find something a little ugly, but very true in his character onscreen. In Transformers mode, he’s a gross clown who asks you to laugh along & identify with that sleaze instead of cringing in recognition. Disturbia firmly boasts a Transformers-flavor LaBeouf, a falsely macho teenage clown who asks you to continually exclaim, “What a goof!” as he lazes around watching Cheaters, plays video games, and lustily spies on the girl next door through his trusty (and likely crusty) binoculars. It’s clear that the macho teen boy audience is when Disturbia is aiming to make its money. Early on, LaBeouf gets a supposed Big Cheer moment when he punches his (presumably underpaid, overworked) high school teacher in the jaw and lands himself on movie-long house arrest. What follows is a PG-13 version of an American Pie-style comedy where he woos the Next Door Hottie by openly drooling/spying and But I’m a Nice Guy!-ing her. It eventually works and just when they’re about to have their Big Kiss, character actor David Morse swoops in as a creepy next door slasher villain who steals their attention, nearly saving the film single-handedly. Morse is effectively, undeniably creepy as the possible serial killer these teens spy on and attempt to expose to skeptical adults. As he’s on house arrest, all LaBeouf can do is watch in horror as the evidence against Morse builds and more potential victims wander into harm’s way. He’s just like a wheelchair-bound James Stewart in Rear Window (just 10x more annoying).

To be fair, my frustration with Disturbia is not entirely LaBeouf’s fault. Were the film actually released in the late 90s when it’s nu-metal slasher mode wasn’t yet stale and I was a teenage shithead myself, I likely would’ve been onboard. Even now, David Morse’s expert work as the cold-hearted killer is almost enough for me to forgive the film’s mid-00s hard rock braggadocio and lame, teen-friendly bro humor. In essence, though, this is frequently a comedy where the jokes just didn’t work for me and only rarely the Rear Window slasher I desperately wanted it to be. The most interesting aspects director DJ Caruso, who’s also responsible for this year’s xXx: Return of Xander Cage of all things, brings to the table here are the ways the film updates & perverts the original Rear Window dynamic. There’s something less pathetic & more understandable about a teen creep spying on his neighbors through his house’s windows than Stewart doing so as an adult man. Technological updates like Internet search engines & video recordings also change the dynamic of LaBeouf sleuthing around for info on his killer next door. If you’re curious about the ways Rear Window has been reshaped & reimagined since Hitchcock’s heyday, Disturbia is a must-watch, especially for David Morse’s terrifying presence and the novelty of that seminal classic being filtered through a generic PG-13 slasher that should’ve been released in the days when KoRn was king. Once that novelty wears off, however, you’re left with a lowbrow teen comedy that seems to think it’s hi-larious to watch a teenage Shia LaBeouf construct towers made of unwrapped Twinkies and stomp out flaming bags of dog shit. Just know what you’re getting into.

-Brandon Ledet

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