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Film / Disturbia

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Disturbia is a 2007 neo-noir psychological thriller film directed by DJ Caruso and starring Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Sarah Roemer and Carrie-Anne Moss.

Troubled by the death of his father in a car accident, teenager Kale Brecht (LaBeouf) assaults one of his teachers after he invokes his father while reprimanding his class performance. As a result, Kale is sentenced to three months under house arrest, controlled by a GPS bracelet around his leg that only allows him to move within an electronic perimeter around his house and sets off an immediate response alert if he steps outside this area.

After his mother Julie (Moss) cuts off his TV and Internet access, Kale's boredom leads him to start looking out of his window and watching his neighbors. Joined by his best friend Ronnie and the new girl next door Ashley (Roemer), Kale's spying ends up introducing him to his neighbor Robert Turner (Morse), with the suspicious activities seen in his house seeming to line up with those of a wanted serial killer at large.

Just when Kale believes he has his first lead on Mr. Turner, complications unfold that put the two of them in a cat-and-mouse game, as Kale suspects that not only is Mr. Turner more than he appears to be, but that he knows he's being spied on.

Key influences for Disturbia were Straw Dogs (1971), The Conversation, Say Anything..., and notably Rear Window. Steven Spielberg was an executive producer on the film and personally arranged for LaBeouf to be on the casting shortlist, having been impressed by his work in the 2003 film adaptation of Holes.

Not to be confused with the Rihanna song.

This film has examples of the following tropes:

  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Averted when the police (even reluctantly Gutiérrez) are actually willing to search Turner's garage at Kale's frantic behest.
    • Kale's mother plays this straight until the last ten minutes of the movie. However, Kale's mom has some reasoning as she is more worried that Kale is going nuts and going to do something that will result in him being taken away from her by the police. That, and his evidence isn't the strongest.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Kale's Spanish teacher asks this moments before getting assaulted by Kale:
    "What would your father think?"
  • Artistic License – Law: Pretty much everything about the school/classroom scene should not have happened in the way that it did. The school staff should have already known full well the circumstances surrounding the death of Kale's father. If Kale was known to be routinely depressed, they would likely would requested to arrange for him to go into some sort of therapy, with him being strictly monitored while on school grounds. Also, teachers should know that they should not embarrass students like that in front of the entire class, especially if they use a traumatic experience to provoke a reaction. Teachers are trained to discuss any problems with student in private outside of the class.
  • Asian Airhead: Ronnie, Kale's dumb and hyperactive best friend. He thoroughly inverts the Asian and Nerdy stereotype.
  • Asshole Victim: Officer Gutirrez, who happens to be the Spanish teacher's cousin, holds a grudge against Kale, even though him harassing Kale out of pleasure was mostly Played for Laughs early in the movie, and ends up having his neck snapped by Turner.
  • The Spanish teacher as well. Did anyone really feel bad for him after mishandling that situation in the most embarrassing and provocative way he could?
  • Badass Pacifist: Kale gets back at the bratty kids nonviolently at the end of the movie.
  • Binocular Shot: Used extensively.
  • Black Sheep: Kale has became this in his mother's eyes, due to his failure to rescue her late husband and then being put under house arrest following the assault on his Spanish teacher.
  • Blame Game: Kale's relationship with his mother is already strained by the latter blaming the former for her husband's death, the house arrest only worsens this.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Despite its violent premise, very little blood is shown in the film, which is likely why it was able to be given a PG-13 rating on appeal after its initial R rating. Even Robert bleeds very little upon being impaled with a garden shear.
  • Bound and Gagged: Happens to both Kale and his mother with duct tape. In a rare case in suspense films, this actually doesn't prevent them from retaliating. As a matter of fact, Kale's mother is at her most useful while bound and gagged in Turner's basement.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: The little kids, though Laser-Guided Karma hits them in a bulls eye when Kale is freed from house arrest and he tells their mom that they've been watching porn. From what we can see in the end, she loses it.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Even after hearing what Kale did to his teacher, the bratty kids think Kale is someone they should mess with. They pay for this later.
  • Butt-Monkey: Kale goes through a few moments, like being tormented by his bratty neighbors.
  • Cassandra Truth: Kale tells this about Turner. Naturally, nobody listens to him because he didn't have enough evidence.
  • Chained by Fashion: Ashley invokes it by customizing Kale's GPS anklet with paint.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Kale's father was a loving dad before he tragically passed away.
  • Dude, Where's My Reward?: Kale gets off his house arrest early due to "good behavior," gets the girl, and gets payback on the boys. Now, compared to losing his father, being put in house arrest in the first place, the resulting disconnect from society that made him the stalker that discovered the killer, which in turn puts his life, his mother's life, and his friends' lives in mortal danger. Although, his reputation in town did go from "that nutty kid under house arrest" to "that kid who saved us from the serial killer."
  • Faux Affably Evil: Turner is clearly experienced in acting like a nice guy, which is accurate when it comes to routine serial murderers.
  • Flipping the Bird: Kale flips Ronnie off when Ronnie tries to film Kale and Ashley making out.
  • Foreshadowing: Detective Parker (Viola Davis) advises Kale to not even try disrupting his tracker by soaking it in water because not only will it not work, it also just looks stupid. Later, when Kale and Ashley are escaping Turner, they both jump in the pool from the roof and the tracker goes off alerting the cops.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The movie pretty much gives all the clues early on that Turner is a serial killer. It's simply a matter of figuring out when he's going to strike. To be fair, anyone who has watched Rear Window should already know what happens.
  • Gas Lighting: Turner pulls this on Kale by dressing in the redhead woman's clothing and driving her car away to make it seem like she left safely.
  • Girl Next Door: Ashley is a rather unusual example of this. Especially for her love of reading books on her rooftop.
  • Harmful to Minors: While Kale is 17, he had to watch his father die right in front of him.
  • Heh Heh, You Said "X": Invoked when the class is assigned to share their plans during summer vacation, Ronnie continuously finds ways to keep saying the Spanish word for "perhaps", "quizas" (said similarly to "kiss ass").
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Kale, thanks to the assault on his Spanish teacher, he is this in the eyes of the neighborhood, his mother, and the police.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: While Julie has no reason to suspect her next door neighbor whom she is having coffee with and may have met for the very first time of being a killer, she seems quite... taken in with his charm to say the least. She does this even though it's only been a year after her husband passed away, which is not really a long time from moving on, not to mention she's openly doing this in front of her son and acting like it's all a fun game.
  • Hot-Blooded: Kale, which naturally conflicts with being literally restrained in house arrest.
  • Humiliation Conga: The first part of the film is this for Kale. He is sentenced to house arrest for three months during summer holidays. Then his mother cuts off his internet access and TV cables, and in the end he is reduced to making towers of Twinkies out of boredom. Then the neighborhood brats put a burning paper bag full of dog shit on his porch, and of course, Kale's feet get covered in it. Then he chases after the brats down the street only to violate his house arrest, so he sprints back and collapses embarrassingly on his shit stained lawn in front of the sexy girl next door. Then the neighborhood cop, alerted by the GPS bracelet, arrives to bend him over and handcuff him publicly.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Ronnie is this towards Kale.
  • Idiot Ball: Out of the characters who play an important role in the story, Julie is the most insufferably dumb character in the entire film. Part of this has to do with feeling Kale let her down when her husband died, but she's also the typical idiot horror character who trusts the villain more than the hero (her son, no less).
  • Irrational Hatred: Julie blames Kale for her husband's and his father's death, despite it being completely not his fault, leading her to becoming strict towards him as a result. Thankfully, she grew out of it at the end.
  • Jerkass:
    • The Spanish teacher. He fails Ronnie's Spanish speech out of spite for screwing around, throws an eraser at Kale, and insensitively asks him about his father. Then presses charges against Kale for the assault with still No Sympathy towards Kale's hardships since losing his father and how it led to him punching him.
    • His cousin too, who bullies Kale as his parole officer out of sweet revenge for the assault. He gets his though.
    • The little kids too, for provoking Kale and teasing him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Kale can be aloof and a bit rude, but he's a Nice Guy underneath it all.
    • Kale's mother Julie counts too, as initially their relationship between Kale and her were strained, especially shown when Kale was under house arrest, she cancels his subscriptions to the iTunes Music Store and Xbox Live, and cuts the power cord of his television. Though besides that fact it was to give him a hard lesson for assaulting the Spanish teacher, it's implied Julie becoming strict towards Kale was probably also out of her blaming Kale for her husband's death, which was something Robert Turner also implied at the climax when creating a motive of Kale murdering his mother while planning to frame him. However, after Kale came to the rescue, she Took a Level in Kindness towards Kale after him being hailed a hero by the police and the suburbs for stopping a killer's murder spree and getting off of house arrest.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The kids that were watching porn without their mom knowing will probably get grounded, and it's implied that that's just the start.
  • Lovable Coward: Ronnie, after he breaks in to Turner's car to retrieve his phone back he forgot in an earlier investigation for Kale, and then investigates Turner's house for more clues, escapes the house and hides when the police arrive to avoid arrest for burglary and trespassing, leading Kale to believe Turner had harmed him, and leading to Kale risking getting into trouble with the law and making a big fool of himself in the eyes of neighborhood to try to rescue Ronnie.
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie starts you off with a wonderfully lighthearted fishing trip, with father and son bonding. Watching the car accident moments later is just gut wrenching. Not only that, but the last 20 minutes take this to the extreme when Robert Turner shows his true colors, with people being bound and gagged, stabbed, one character having his neck twisted and broken, decomposed corpses and skeletons and what not...
  • Ms. Fanservice: There are several shots of Ashley in her bikini.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: After witnessing the two accidents that completely destroy their car, We watch Kale go to his father's side to see how he is...only to see his reaction to what happened to his father. He goes slowly recoils in horror upon see what happened, but we as the audience don't see, implying it left a traumatic impact on him.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Officer Gutiérrez, after being alerted by Kale's ankle bracelet for one last time, investigates the inside of Robert Turner's house and sees the suspiciously opened vent that contained one of Turner's victims, prompting him to pull out his sidearm and cautiously search further upon realizing how serious the situation could be. After being a Smug Snake over using his position as Kale's parole officer to humiliate him, he presumably now realizes Kale could be telling the truth about Turner all along, only to get his neck snapped by Turner just as he calls for back up.
  • Official Couple: Kale and Ashley at the end of the film.
  • Parents as People: Played with Julie, as she cancels Kale's subscriptions to the iTunes Music Store and Xbox Live, and cuts the power cord of his television not just to further punish him for his house arrest, but likely out of blame for his failure to save her husband. However, she is still a caring mother and her strictness is justified due being a single parent, Kale's aloofness that she tries to get him out of and her Anger Born of Worry that Kale is going nuts and going to do something that will result in him being taken away from her by the police.
  • Porn Stash: Well, technically not a magazine, but the bratty kids usually watch porn on their television set.
  • Portmantitle: Disturbia: "Disturbed" + "Suburbia"
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: Ashley is barefoot at home or when she goes up to read in her roof. She even hosts her party that way, and is still unshod when coming to Kale's house to berate him for spying on her. Kale is also seen barefoot at home, even outside on the grass.
  • "Rear Window" Homage. By extension, also features, "Rear Window" Witness and "Rear Window" Investigation.
  • The Peeping Tom: Kale, and sometimes Ronnie, spends a while lusting and staring after Ashley from afar.
  • Product Placement: iPods are frequently used and Kale is shown using a Macbook Pro and playing on an Xbox 360.
  • Properly Paranoid: Kale, about his neighbor being a murderer. He was right all along.
  • Rabid Cop: Downplayed, but Officer Gutiérrez gleefully uses his duty as Kale's parole officer to humiliate Kale out of revenge for his Sadist Teacher cousin if he goes against house arrest.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Although not a straight remake, this movie is basically Rear Window WITH TEENAGERS! And set in the suburbs instead of an apartment building.
  • Revenge: Kale finally gets his revenge on those bratty kids for tormenting him by posing as a person who works for a TV network, and getting the kids in trouble with their mother by snitching on them for watching porn.
  • Sadist Teacher: While Kale's Spanish teacher doesn't have sadistic tendencies, he's quite the jerkass to Kale, showing No Sympathy towards Kale losing his father.
  • Serial Killer: It's obvious that the news' description about the front fender dent in the mustang being matched from Turner's vehicle that he drives is enough to reveal that he is a serial killer. Despite this, when he first interacts with Kale in his kitchen and Ashley in her car, he talks in such a way that makes you both think and not think he is as dangerous as he is, which has good tendency to freak the audience out.
  • Sexy Surfacing Shot: Kale spies on Ashley while she climbs out of the pool in a bikini, with the camera zooming in for some Male Gaze.
  • Shout-Out: Kale Brecht's last name is a reference to Bertolt Brecht.
  • Smug Snake: Officer Gutiérrez smug every time he takes the opportunity to avenge his cousin against Kale.
  • Stacy's Mom: Ashley comments on how gorgeous Kale's mom is.
  • Stalking is Love: Kale manages to pull a surprisingly wholesome variation of this after Ashley gets mad at him for spying her. He admits he does spy her, but then demonstrates how deep and untrivial is the insight of her it has granted him and how much he admires her for what he has seen. It works, and she sums it by describing the case as "the creepiest... or the sweetest thing she ever heard" before accepting it as an elaborate Love Confession and kissing him. Unlike many examples, it is also helped by circumstances: she shares his acknowledgment that they are both in a similar situation, that of a teenager trapped in an unfavorable place and trying to figure out an absurd and hurtful world by peeking at it through limited means (her books and his window).
  • Suburban Gothic: A teenage boy under house arrest discovers that his nextdoor neighbor is a serial killer.
  • Surprise Car Crash: The car crash that kills Kale's dad happens without warning after another car pulls up in front of them and changes lanes seconds before they hit a different, broken-down car parked right in front of them.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Ashley is shown like this while Kale is watching her undress with her blinds open.
  • Torture Cellar: Inside Turner's house, there are several levels of torture chambers.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Kale, his best friend Ronnie, and Ashley. a girl who moves next door, team up when they stalk a creepy neighbor.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The entire plot would not happen if... That teacher kept his mouth shut, Kale never assaulted his teacher, the judge sent Kale to jail instead of house arrest, and if Kale's mom didn't cancel his Xbox Live and his iTunes. But then again, Kale would never discover Turner's activities, and so an insane serial killer would be quietly continuing his murderous existence...
  • Would Hit a Girl: Turner had no scruples with hitting Ashley, binding and gagging Kale's mother, slamming her against a wall, and slapping her.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Subverted with Kale wanting to hurt the children who were bothering him but because he was on house arrest, he was forced to go back to his house.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The Spanish teacher who berated Kale for ignoring his homework. He apparently expected Kale to have a deep change of heart when he went: "What would your father think?" Instead, the teacher got beaten up.