Only the foolhardy dare mess with the works of Alfred Hitchcock - just ask Gus Vant Sant. His pointless, shot-for-shot remake of Psycho in 1998 not only reinforced the argument that Hollywood was running low on ideas, but it showed you can't hope to emulate a true master of the genre. Just like you wouldn't ask a monkey to paint a Picasso, you don't hire a hack to remake a classic. While we wait in vain for Michael Bay's production company to get their greasy hands on The Birds and ruin it just like they did The Hitcher and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we've got Disturbia from The Salton Sea director D.J. Caruso. Think Rear Window with camcorders and iPods.
However, it's far from the mess it could have been, thanks largely to Shia LaBeouf's burgeoning star power and a remarkably savvy script that plays to its young star's strengths. If 'The Beef' really is the new Tom Hanks as so many people are claiming, then Disturbia would be his Burbs, only played deadly straight and with a teen-friendly soundtrack.
Kale Brecht (LaBeouf) is your typical rage-filled school kid: one year on from his father's untimely death, he socks his Spanish teacher in the face after an unfair jibe about daddy dearest and one ankle tag later he's confined to three months of house arrest. Unable to leave his own home, he starts snooping on the townspeople and spies two interesting neighbours; impossibly-toned hottie Ashley (Roemer), who enjoys brief swims and sweaty work-outs with the curtains open; and sinister guy-next-door Mr. Turner (Morse), a man who may or may not be a mass murderer but certainly has a criminal haircut. Kale and friends begin spying on Turner and attempt to expose him as the suburban slaughterer they suspect him to be.
Despite the filmmakers' protests, this has Hitchcock written all over it - replace Kale's electronic tag with Jimmy Stewart's plastercast and you've pretty much got the exact same premise. The story elements are largely identical - our immobile hero has his friends scout out his sinister neighbour while keeping a watchful eye over proceedings - but director D. J. Caruso goes to great lengths to point out how very modern his version is: barely a minute passes without a clumsy mention of iTunes, Xbox Live, digital cameras, or the internet. The message is sledgehammer subtle: with so many high-tech gizmos at our fingertips we're becoming a race of voyeurs, but hey - some people need to be watched. We know the US like keeping tabs on their neighbours, which might explain why the film enjoyed so much success in America.
What Disturbia does have in its favour is Shia LaBeouf; a young actor who has repeatedly singled himself out as one to watch for the future. Displaying the same awkward charisma as he did in Transformers
, LaBeouf is a wonderfully natural performer, elevating Kale above the usual clichéd 'angry teen' roles that this sort of picture usually provides. With a healthy mix of bumbling charm and brooding machismo, he's perfect for the role - a kind of rough-around-the-edges type with a heart of gold i.e. a carefully constructed bad boy that the girls will go crazy for. Love interest Roemer, however, is little more than a waist with a face; a doe-eyed flirt who feels like she's been shoehorned in to meet a sexy teen quota. Also, it's apparently cool if guys spy on girls now, so long as you make studious notes on their body language, mannerisms and family relationships from afar. Crack out the binoculars, boys.
Morse is an astute choice for the role of creepy neighbour - usually cast in non-descript military roles, he's the ultimate 'that guy' so it's quite fitting that he's the quiet, unassuming 'serial killer' on the block. You don't want a Hopkins or a Busey hamming it up - one flash of their dodgy paedo-smiles would have the Neighbourhood Watch burning down their houses in seconds. It may be unintentional, but Morse's identikit face just fits.
Unfortunately, what starts out as a rounded and intelligent thriller soon turns up the silly for an OTT finale that betrays the tense and well-plotted build-up. Disturbia holds its cards close to its chest throughout, but when you see its final hand, you can't help feel a little disappointed. Nonetheless, for what's essentially a throwaway Rear Window knock-off, Disturbia does a fine good job of holding you by the balls for the first 90 minutes, thanks largely to Shia's hefty screen presence. As Hitchcock homages go it's one of the best yet, but it still can't hold a candle to The Simpsons' version. "I'm a mur-diddly-urderer!" indeed.