Dark, romantic ‘Disturbia’ a stunning masterpiece

You cannot watch “Disturbia” without comparing it to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “Rear Window.” Despite claims to the contrary, this is a remake of that film and an incredible one at that.

From the opening lines of the film you know you’re in for a special treat. Before the dark of the introduction subsides and the visual story starts, the writing steps in to drive home one of the bigger themes of the film: voyeurism. And the writing keeps hitting home, reminding fans of the classic version on which this is based.

In “Rear Window,” Jimmy Stewart (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Harvey”) is confined to his apartment after a bad car accident has placed his leg and hip in a cast. He uses that time confined in his wheelchair to spy on his neighbors and accidentally discovers a murder.

In this very clever remake, the teenaged main character, Kale (Shia LeBeouf, “Holes,” “The Greatest Game Ever Played”), was in a bad car accident. He is traumatized by the death of a loved one and lashes out, resulting in his house arrest for the summer. He too resorts to spying on his neighbors for entertainment, and he too accidentally discovers a murderer, only this time it is a serial killer.

Hitchcock played on audiences’ fears, tapping into their deepest and darkest anxieties. He used claustrophobia, helplessness and a lack of belief in the main character’s assertions to create a perfect pitch of tension in the original, but by today’s standards it’s a bit laid back. Today’s audiences want more bang for their buck, and the makers of the film realized this.

“Disturbia” takes the same plot, the same fears and ratchets it up a notch. There are several scary moments that take your breath away in their startling ferocity, but those adrenaline surges place you in the same emotional seat as the main characters. For instance, instead of just imagining a murder and a dead body, this film shows you the corpses.

However, this movie isn’t all about terror and thrills. There is also romance. In “Rear Window,” Grace Kelly (“To Catch a Thief,” “High Society”) is a long-time sweetheart of Stewart’s character and is trying to convince him to commit. She is stunningly beautiful, stubborn and an equal partner who is capable of going where Stewart’s character cannot go. There are some very steamy scenes between the two of them, but nothing is ever shown beyond a PG rating.

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“Disturbia” has a romance as well, but it too has a modern spin. When you have a teenage boy as the main character, what better romance angle is there than a new girl next door? Especially one who likes to swim in bikinis in her outdoor pool, where the camera can shoot lots of voyeuristic close-ups of her body as the main character obsessively observes her through his binoculars. But she doesn’t remain eye-candy for long. Instead, she steps in to challenge LeBeouf’s character, becomes a sweet romantic interest as she shares his attraction and joins in his belief of something being wrong with the creepy neighbor.

However, where Kelly was strong and a bit pushy, Sarah Roemer (“The Grudge 2,” “Wristcutters: a Love Story”) is more of a helpless female. She doesn’t enter the suspect’s house (another male teenaged character does that in this version), but she does wind up in the wrong places at the wrong times. Yet somehow the romantic angle is more satisfying in the modern film. Instead of Kelly trying to convince Stewart that they’re right for each other, you get LeBeouf trying to convince Roemer to fall in love with him at all.

The writing is what really makes this film stunning. Sure it has a couple of pretty visuals, and good acting straight across the board – LeBeouf is brilliant, Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix,” “Suspect Zero”) does a great job as LeBeouf’s mother and David Morse (“The Green Mile,” “16 Blocks”) is downright chilling as the serial killer – but it is the writing that makes this movie stand on its own two feet. This is no bookend to “Rear Window,” but a simple masterpiece in its own right.