Culture > Movies

Half-hearted angst

Movies | Disturbia fails as a social critique of the suburbs

Issue: "'Darkest moment'," April 28, 2007

When Kale Brecht's mother disconnects the 17-year-old's iTunes, Xbox Live, and cable television, the teen is left only to stare out the windows of his suburban home, trying to make sense of the idiosyncrasies of what he calls "Disturbia" (also the film's name, rated PG-13 for language, violence, and sensual imagery). Kale is living for three months under house arrest as a consequence of assaulting his Spanish teacher.

And although his electronic ankle bracelet keeps him tethered to within yards of his own house, Kale (Shia LaBeouf) learns that through careful observation with binoculars he can voyeuristically enter into the lives of his quiet neighbors. For one thing, Kale discovers a bikini-clad blond high-school girl living next door (Sarah Roemer) who likes to take long swims. Since Disturbia is geared toward teens, the two fall in love. But since Disturbia also works as a horror/suspense film, his other next-door neighbor turns out to be a serial killer.

Disturbia's plot revolves around how Kale uses Google and video cameras-and help from his attractive neighbor and flaky Asian friend-to launch his own amateurish investigation into whether his middle-aged neighbor is the serial killer he's read about in the newspaper. With this set-up, Disturbia's plot works out in the way you might expect.

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What fails is Disturbia's half-hearted social critique of suburban life. In one scene, Kale confronts stealth love interest Ashley about conforming to the suburban norm by hosting a party when her parents leave town. But fitting the stereotype of the brooding, self-loathing but self-righteous suburban teen, Kale lacks moral authority on the matter.

Others will criticize Disturbia for being a teenage knock-off of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 thriller, Rear Window. But target audience teenagers aren't likely to have seen the Hitchcock film, anyway.

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