D.J. Caruso, the director of Disturbia and previously of The Salton Sea (2002), proves to us the importance of developing characters to make the viewers feel the discomfort of the world the characters have made for themselves. The story's screenplay is penned by Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth, screenwriter of Red Eye (2005). Ellsworth also wrote the remarkable "Halloween" episode of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The casting is solid as a rock, featuring Matt Craven, who plays Kale's father Daniel Bretch in a brief but warming initial scene, with echoes of a Spielberg-type father-son dyanamic. The sensitive protagonist Kale Bretch (Shia LaBeouf) is confined to move in a limited 100-foot circle around his home wearing an electronic monitoring device attached to his ankle after having an altercation with his Spanish teacher, whom Kale punched in the face.
"He's like a modem. He gets a constant signal from Mr. Bracelet that he sends through your phone line to the monitoring station downtown. So they know where you are, where you've been and what you're thinkin' 25/7," Detective Parker (Viola Davis) tells us.
Kale is deprived of his Internet connection and is frequently told off by his strict mom Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss), so the boy finds a new hobby, spying on the people around him by using huge binoculars and high-tech wireless equipment that includes a camcorder he's checking constantly behind his mother's back. When Kale spies a newcomer to the neighbourhood he thinks it's the ideal option to relieve the stress of his boredom.
This newcomer, Ashley Carlson (Sarah Roemer) is a gorgeous, blonde, long-legged girl who also has a controlling dysfunctional family, Kale soon notices, including a mother whose irritating tone is even worse than that of his own mother. Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) is the zany bro in this triangle of detached youngsters enslaved by their cell phones, portable monitors, tripods, walkie talkies, iPods, and the loud pop soundtracks beloved by Generation Y.
Kale and Ashley share a notable lack of parental bonding which creates a point of immediate intimacy between them, since Kale discovers she needs her own bracelet, too: "The bright green bracelet is from The Place. The red one is from The Komodo Club, and yellow is from Razors." Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer complement each other in these post-modern Hitchcockian dynamics, with LaBeouf assuming the role of the man obsessing over a statuesque and unpredictable woman.
Kale's hyperactive imagination as a result of being under arrest leads him to focus excessively on the lives of his closest neighbours, very particularly on the mysterious and apparently laid back Mr. Robert Turner (David Morse), watching his garage doors, and his black Mustang convertible. Every time Mr. Turner's garage opens up Kale's heart accelerates, as if he received negative energy from Turner shattering the peaceful scenario of suburbia.
Kale begins to spy on Ashley in a voyeuristic way that could annoy some female viewers, because by doing this, he is turning Ashley from a fleshed-out woman into a shallow sexual object who becomes more and more idealized in his view. The hormones raging in Kale makes this behavior somehow tolerable whenever Ashley appears, especially when she is dressed provocatively in a bikini.
But Ashley isn't going to conform to the role of the airhead hottie and instead she assumes control over their relationship, subtly and progressively, undermining Kale's self-confidence, despite her inability to differentiate if the neighbour who broke into her car was doing it in a "nice" way or if the apologies from Kale are "either the creepiest… or the sweetest thing" she's ever heard. Most of time she's a passive eyewitness to Kale's increasing anguish.
Hence, Disturbia isn't only a tale of the latent phsychopathia who lies beyond the white fences and green lawns, but also of the spectator who willingly participates in this process, confusing normalcy with deviancy, a perpetual vigilance that will ultimately carrying us away from the safety we thought we had, trapped in our cozy environments.
The camera could stand in for our collective libidinous conscience in an era when virtual games are quickly gaining new players. No wonder Kale and Ashley base their relationship in playing each other, often hiding their insecurities. Comparing Disturbia to Hitchcock's Rear Window, we only see the voyeurism factor and the suspenseful floating atmosphere in common, but DJ Caruso avoids making a carbon copy of a typical Hitchcock battle between the sexes, as Kale and Ashley's characters are far from those of the victimized male protagonist and the gelid high society queen played by James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
The film builds to a thrilling conclusion after a long, suspenseful journey, one of the film's messages being that there's no reason to shrug carelessly and look the other way.
Also, you look out the window all the time, like I do, only you're looking at the world,
you know. Trying to figure it out. Trying to understand the world. Trying to figure out why it's not in order, like your books. I'm only looking at you. — Disturbia