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Non-Review Review: Disturbia

Yes, it’s Rear Window for the MTV generation, but what’s the harm in that? They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all. Disturbia is a movie that is more than entertaining on its own terms, a light bit of fun that doesn’t let itself get carried away with taking itself too seriously. The final third degenerates into standard teen thriller fare, but – for most of its runtime – the movie manages to keep you smiling along enough that you don’t mind that it’s a copy of a cinematic classic.

Yes, even in his dressing gown, David Morse could still take you and use you as cheap building insolation... ((Allegedly...))

Hollywood is going to issue remake after remake anyway. It seems like there’s next-to-nothing that a concerned citizen like you or I can do to stop it. So we may as well at least recognise that there are good remakes and there are bad remakes. This film is solidly in the ‘good remakes’ pile. That’s not to entertain the idea that it could survive comparison to the original Hitchcock film, but few copycats can – look at M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening for an example of how difficult it is to emulate the master. But once you get past that, this is a light and engaging tale.

Naturally, this being a studio release and a thriller, the movie drastically ages down the cast, until we’re following petulant teens filling in for the neighbourhood watch. And instead of a study of the paranoia of American suburbia (which might actually have made the remake somewhat relevent, given the current climate, but also been quite cumbersome), we just get a few cryptic remarks about surveillance culture (mostly as veiled threats). We are given a coming-of-age romance featuring two damaged teenagers flirting and bonding over stalking that weird guy who lives next door. But I don’t judge – if David Morse lived next to me, I’d be sitting by the window with binoculars as well.

Of course, the film is never really subtle. There’s never really much evidence given that the kids might just going out of their minds – even when searches of his house turn up nothing, the film goes to great pains to push the neighbour as a smarmy old codger (always wanted to use that word) outwitting the police rather than as an innocent rabbit-killer who is misunderstood. But that ignores the fact that the serial killer aspect of the story isn’t necessarily the most successful. There are wonderful sequences following the lead character’s house arrest, as he tries to fight the boredom, that call to mind my own youthful memories of being grounded. Except with less perv-ing on the neighbours and serial killers. Just barely, though.

So, it ain’t exactly Shakespeare we got here. Which is a good thing, because his sexually-charged thrillers sucked. In fairness, the movie handles its teen leads quite well – which puts the movie a solid mile-and-a-half ahead of most other features in its genre. Shia LaBeouf works a lot better here as petulant teenager than he does later on in his career as a whiny young manchild. He just exudes failed rebellion, like so many of the real teenagers we all have known growing up. His moments with the sexy girl next door are awkward and just about weird enough to actually work without seeming excessively zany or kooky. The romance subplot doesn’t feel like an afterthougth added to the film to make it fifteen minutes longer.

The movie does two things well: the use of new technology in a smart and constructive manner, which is rare for a genre as staid as the horror/thriller (and no, Untraceable doesn’t count), and it’s willing to laugh at itself. The kid in the movie is tech-literate. And that extends beyond checking his phone to realise that he’s out of signal before the crazed killer strikes. The movie actually makes its characters seem resourceful in a way which reflects our new media-savvy generation with our video cameras and phone cameras. Sure, there are a few McGuyver moments, but there aren’t any moments which make you want to bang your head repeatedly against a wall wondering why he doesn’t call the police. Sure, there are clichés abound, from grossly negligent authority figures to a ridiculously gratuitous finale, but the technical aspects are handled in a progressive way.

The film has a sense of humour about itself, with the lead characters freaking out and playing immature pranks on each other (there’s a great one about two-thirds through involving a live feed) in a way which suggests that this isn’t a movie upon which the fate of the entire civilised world rests. It’s just a movie that wants to entertain you.

There are more than enough flaws to prevent the film from becoming any sort of classic (teen or otherwise), but – if you are willing to let it step out of the shadow of its more prestigious big brother – I think you’ll find a reasonably solid teen thriller. It’s no Rear Window. It isn’t even a Scream. It is, however, perfectly acceptable fare.

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2 Responses

  1. David Morse… never made a bad film

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