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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
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Take that, ‘Rear Window’

With a plot ripped straight from Hitchcock’s playbook, the astute teens in D.J. Caruso’s “Disturbia” spy on a thickset neighbor who really should lower his window blinds if he intends to murder innocent women.

But Caruso only uses Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” as a springboard for a slick and suspenseful thriller made for the YouTube generation. When a girl in the movie threatens to throw a boy’s iPod over the side of his house, the boy desperately pleads, “That’s 60 gigs of my life you’re throwing away!”

That line is just about perfect; young people these days are so dependent on their Apple-sexy gadgets, the gadgets have become integral parts of their owners’ beings. If Darwin was correct, 30 years from now babies will be born with iPod ear buds pre-attached to their auricles.

Young star-on-the-rise Shia LaBeouf (from 2003’s “Holes” and starring in this summer’s “Transformers”) plays Kale Brecht, a sullen teenager still grieving over his father’s sudden demise one year earlier. Prone to violence, Kale smacks his Spanish teacher a good one after the teacher makes an inappropriate remark about Kale’s dad. He’s sentenced to a summer vacation of house arrest with no XBox, no iTunes and an ankle bracelet that summons the cops if he steps out of his yard. Actually, the device will sound a warning beep if he breaks the perimeter, giving him 10 seconds to return to his prison — or else. Maybe some ankle bracelets really work that way; I like the design simply because it allows the filmmakers to complicate the plot and amp up the suspense in ways that only a thriller can get away with.

Kale figures out exactly at what point outside his house the bracelet will start beeping and he hangs a string along those borders. The script, by Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth, is clever like that, setting up the limitations of Kale’s claustrophobic world early on. By the time the action and suspense come along in the second half, we already know all the rules and the movie need not linger over the details. Any amount of detail lingering can be deadly in a suspense thriller. Caruso and his writers know this and pace the movie well.

For the first few weeks of Kale’s imprisonment, he unsuccessfully staves away boredom by watching TV and constructing towers of glue and Twinkies. Things perk up when he begins to spy on his neighbors with a pair of sturdy, stalker-approved binoculars. He pulls his best friend, Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), to the window and points out all the interesting people: there’s the married man across the street having an affair with his Spanish maid; the horny 12-year-old boys who watch skin-flicks under their mom’s nose; and his proudest find, the bikini-clad hottie girl next door (the fetchingly freckled Sarah Roemer) who catches Kale and Ronnie spying on her. She does what all confident, spied-on girls do in the movies: She rings their doorbell, introduces her wet-haired self with a mischievous smile and becomes a member of their voyeur’s club.

Never mind how ridiculous it is for all these neighbors — with all of their secrets — to be parading themselves in front of naked windows. It’s a solid basis for a thriller, which gets thrilling when Kale and his crew begin to suspect their neighbor, Mr. Turner (a terror-ifically subtle David Morse), is the killer all the news stations are talking about. The make of his car and the dent in its side matches that of the killer’s. He invites a woman over for drinks and Kale thinks he sees and hears the woman screaming. And the most holy — duh — warning of all, Mr. Turner drags a bulging, bloody, folded-up tarp down his back steps.

Kale runs the surveillance operation from his bedroom as Ronnie takes the Grace Kelly role and sneaks into Mr. Turner’s garage. Ashley (bikini girl) keeps an eye on Mr. Turner as he runs to the hardware store to buy — what else — a shovel. In a neat touch, she snaps cell phone pics of Mr. Turner that Kale can instantaneously see on his MacBook Pro. Later on, Kale hooks up a remote feed to a camcorder so he can see what Ronnie sees as his friend makes disturbing discoveries in Mr. Turner’s house. These kids should work for the FBI, or at least the Apple Store or Radio Shack.

“Disturbia” is such a tightly wound yarn of suspense, I can overlook flaws in its logic or certain genre clichs. For instance, when Kale opens the door to his fridge, rummages around inside, shuts it and — WHOA! Mr. Turner is standing right there! Or when Kale seems a little too unconcerned about what might be approaching him from behind. These are just nit-picky things. “Disturbia” is well-made Hollywood-genre filmmaking with tingly, youthful spunk.

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