Screenwriter: Christopher B. Landon, Carl Ellsworth
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse
Running time: 105 mins
A raft of dismal teen-orientated horror flicks have swamped our screens in recent years, but Disturbia thankfully transcends the genre and delivers a thrilling and funny movie that pushes the right buttons without ever feeling calculating.
Disturbed by the tragic death of his father in front of his eyes, teenager Kale (Shia LeBouef) becomes a withdrawn figure of delinquence and lashes out at an insensitive school teacher, which prompts him to face house arrest. If he goes outside the garden, his electronic tag will alert the police and a prison cell could be his next place of residence.
In a suitably contemporary take on Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, Kale's forced to turn to observing the rest of the neighbourhood to get his kicks after his mother bans his television and videogames, but his attention soon turns to the activities of a sinister man that suggests he may be living next door to a serial killer called Mr Turner (David Morse). But Kale's wandering eye is also drawn to gorgeous young girl Ashley (Sarah Roemer) who has moved in next door.
The success of Disturbia hinges on the masterful way it weaves the dual narrative strands of Kale's will they/won't they relationship with Ashley and the the central plot following his attempts to unveil a serial killer from the confines of his home. Crucially, thanks to some engagingly witty writing in the former strand and tense direction in the latter, the laughs and jolts are well fused together.
The plot gimmick of Kale having to stay within his house is cleverly used by director D.J. Caruso to enable us to share his voyeuristic perspective, as the viewer is forced to inhabit the same spatial environment and ultimately become a voyeur too. The sequence involving Kale's friend Ronnie sneaking into Mr Turner's garage to try to uncover a body, relayed via a camcorder, is unsettling and scary in a way that evokes The Blair Witch Project.
Shia LeBoeuf exudes an engaging combination of psychological fragility and playful adolescence, meaning that we give a damn whether he sweeps the girl off her feet or nails the killer. The narrative structure of Disturbia also drives this forward, as we immediately feel his suffering after the harrowing impact of the opening sequence in which his father is killed in a gruesome road accident.
David Morse always adds a touch of class to proceedings whenever he enters the frame in any film, and this is certainly the case here. He exudes psychopathic menace through those intense eyes of his as Mr Turner, the next door slayer, but can flip into a creepy charm that manages to seduce Kale's mother (Carrie Anne Moss).
Overall, Disturbia is a thoroughly enjoyable film that conforms to the horror genre's conventions, yet always feels fresh thanks to a combination of well-judged performances, cleverly structured writing and suitably claustrophobic direction.