A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this thriller will likely appeal to teens, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it's quite violent for a PG-13-rated film. In an early scene, the young hero sees his father killed in a car accident; later, he must explore a scary house in order to save his mother from a serial killer. There's also punching, stabbing, beating, strangling, and neck-breaking, as well as images of human and animal corpses in various states of decay. The main character catches glimpses of sexual activity through his binoculars -- a couple through a window, young boys watching porn on TV (breasts are visible), a teen girl getting undressed, etc.. Language includes frequent uses of "s--t," plus other profanity.
What's the story?
An update of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, DISTURBIA centers on angry teenager Kale (Carrie-Anne Moss) cuts off his XBox and iTunes access, leaving him to seek other entertainment -- namely, spying on his neighbors. "This is reality without the TV!" he says gleefully. He sees a man cheating on his wife, little boys watching porn on TV, and the odious Turner (David Morse). Intrigued by Turner's vintage Mustang (the same car spotted at the scene of a woman's disappearance) and dates (one woman appears to be terrified by a knife), Kale soon finds encouragement from his best friend, Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), and his new, attractive, and apparently lonely neighbor, Ashley (Sarah Roemer).
Is it any good?
Until it runs off its rails in the third act, Disturbia teeters between strangely mesmerizing and strangely clumsy. At its center is a worthy examination of voyeurism, which has pervaded current popular culture in the form of reality TV and Internet video diaries. Less admirable is a familiar serial-killer plot in which a monster menaces clueless women, including the hero's mother.
The plot lurches in order to get Kale into tight spots: First Ashley is wonderful, then she's disloyal and superficial; Ronnie is helpfully tech-savvy, then he's an idiot; a local cop assigned to monitor Kale is adversarial. Still, the camerawork is clever (recurring close-ups and bad framing approximate Kale's untrained eye), and Kale suffers from both over-stimulation and privilege. Increasingly distracted by the sheer number of ways he's found to watch the violence and sex unfolding before him -- computer screen, cell phone, video camera, binoculars, even his own eyes -- Kale is eventually unable to respond coherently, although by that time the plot has gone loopy, too. But even as the many possibilities for spying are speeded up and multiplied, the movie's focus on the consequences of voyeurism remains relevant and riveting.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about voyeurism. Has the rise of things like reality TV and user-generated online video made people accustomed to the idea of scrutinizing others for entertainment? What role does media -- or the lack thereof -- play in Kale's decision to observe his neighbors? Does the fact that he discovers a terrible criminal make up for the fact that he's spying? What are the movie's messages about connections and relationships between people in modern life? Families who've also seen Rear Window (the inspiration for this film) can compare the two movies. What's changed since the original was made?
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