Dude, I Like to Watch

Disturbia. Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, and Sarah Roemer star in a film written by Christopher B. Landon and directed by D.J. Caruso.

As you probably guessed, Disturbia is Hitchcock’s Rear Window infantilized. In the original, James Stewart plays Jeff, an obsessive career photojournalist laid up nursing a broken leg and his brooding fear of commitment in a hot New York apartment made hotter by Grace Kelly. It’s a grown-up thing. This film’s protagonist is a high school student under suburban electronic house arrest (apparently in a Green and Green home), cruelly cut off from television and video games.

Yet the film hasn’t been so much dumbed-down as it has been teened-up. Consider the people on whom Kale (Shia LaBeouf) spies. In Hitchcock’s world the neighbors represent gradations of the love Jeff fears, including the hulking, emotionally bruised Raymond Burr literally henpecked into a murder. But Disturbia’s spied-upon include poop-in-a-burning-bag prankster kids, a cheating hypocritical adult, and that staple of suburban movie neighborhoods, a serial murderer with his own private Hostel-like atrocity chamber-adolescent ideals of evil.

Against all odds, though, the movie works. Kale is mourning a father whose death he partly caused, so we understand his isolation as a thing wished for, got, and then regretted. To its credit, Disturbia stays PG-13 by substituting sly, steamy sexuality for nudity, and using frightening suggestions of evil instead of gross-out body parts and blood. Its violence erupts sharply but mostly seethes. Besides, the character development is deft: Kale, his toothsome neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer), and friends come alive as they interact. And as extensions of Kale’s confined obsessive psyche, they become vulnerable and important to us, too.

There have been at least three other rip-offs of Hitch’s masterpiece, including Body Double. It’s almost irresistible since the underlying urge to make movies is a species of voyeurism. In the theater, we all love to watch. The problem? This remake doesn’t trust the suspense inherent in snooping and pushes for a big horror finale.

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