A year after seeing his father die in a terrible car wreck, Kale struggles with guilt and anger, and at one point lets his emotions get the better of him. The high school senior punches an insensitive teacher and gets sentenced to three months house arrest. Fitted with an ankle bracelet that will summon police if he wanders more than 100 feet from his front door, Kale spends his days watching TV, eating junk food, playing video games with pal Ronnie and trying to avoid cabin fever.
Thanks to a pair of binoculars and neighbors who don't believe in curtains, he discovers that every window in his home overlooks a different "reality show" in progress. If there were Nielsen ratings for those programs, the top-rated series would be Lusting After the Pretty Girl Who Just Moved Next Door, starring Ashley. A close second would be Spying on the Creepy Guy Who May Be a Serial Killer, featuring the secretive Mr. Turner.
Kale strikes up a friendship with Ashley, a teen with her own issues who, oddly enough, doesn't mind his voyeurism. Along with Ronnie, they stake out Mr. Turner's house, suspecting that the man has something to do with a rash of missing women. Is it their imaginations run amok? Or is the quiet guy with nice landscaping a threat to humanity?
The opening scene involves Kale and his father (clearly pals who respect each other) fly fishing and sharing a Coke. Dad offers words of encouragement and invites his son to open up about life issues. Kale's mother loves him too much to let him wallow in self-pity, though there's a tension between them. It eventually gives way to Kale risking his own life to save her.
House arrest agrees with Kale in one respect: He acknowledges the people around him, realizing he is part of a community. While there's no excuse for his peeping at Ashley, at least Kale takes note of the likes, dislikes and other traits that make her a complex individual, not just a sexual object.
Upon seeing Ashley in a bikini, Ronnie proclaims, "There is a god."
Ashley explains that her father's infidelity precipitated the family's move from the city. Another of Kale's neighbors regularly waits for his wife to leave the house so that he can sneak home for trysts with a mistress. (The couple is shown embracing.)
The camera leers at Ashley's form, whether she's stripping down to her bikini for a swim, working out in a sports bra, sunbathing or undressing in her room. Kale and Ashley kiss passionately. Twice, the audience sees what's on TV as young boys watch video porn (couples kissing, a woman massaging her own breasts, etc.). There are subtle allusions to masturbation. Joking with his dad, Kale deadpans that he plans to shack up with the mother of his illegitimate child. A cell phone's ring tone is the song "Me So Horny." Kale studies a commercial for a beach resort that features voluptuous models in skimpy bathing suits.
Kale punches his Spanish teacher in the face. Police storm in and rough Kale up a bit when he violates his boundaries. He plays a combat-oriented point-and-shoot video game.
The car crash that injures Kale and claims his father's life is devastating and hard to watch. Ashley describes the condition of murder victims; Web images show a corpse. From outside we see blood spray across the inside of a window.
[Spoiler Warning] There is indeed a killer on the loose, which leads to brutal revelations and a final showdown. He and Kale engage in a battle royal that trashes the house and bloodies both combatants. A man gets stabbed to death. Ashley claws a guy's face with her fingernails and throws him over a railing. A young man gets whacked in the head with a metal bar. Another has his neck broken. Victims' remains are gory and found in various stages of decomposition. Jump scenes thrust brutalized faces into the camera. A man lures a woman to his home and we later learn that he killed her. Another woman is bound, gagged and slammed into a wall (the psychopath intends to slit her throat).
Drug and Alcohol Content
A man and his date drink alcohol. Afroman's R&B hit "Because I Got High" plays briefly over one scene.
Imagine if Cameron Crowe remade Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (after repeated viewings of Monster House) and shifted into Silence of the Lambs mode for the final act. That's Disturbia. Part thriller, part angst-filled teen sex fantasy, it wants cloistered young people—isolated from true community by the pseudo-interaction of text messaging and online video games—to feel less secure in pristine neighborhoods full of secretive strangers trying to fool everyone with their well-manicured yards. They're phony people with hidden agendas and empty lives. At least that's the cynical perspective of LaBeouf's brooding, restless teen.
Actually, Kale represents director D.J. Caruso's own suspicions of suburbia. Caruso said, "You start watching your neighbors. You start studying their patterns. You start to imagine what things are happening in their homes and why. And even though it could all be innocent, it could also be that subversive thing that some of us believe is what is really going on in suburbia." Talk about subversive. Onscreen, it's all about Caruso creating paranoia and going door-to-door, exposing skeletons in folks' closets. Adulterers. Vandals. Porn addicts. Serial killers. So much for charming lawn art, friendly waves while retrieving the morning paper or kids selling cookies. No, these tree-lined streets are a scary place where you carry mace to walk the dog.
But let's face it, Disturbia isn't so much a thought-provoking deconstruction of suburban life (despite a climactic murder weapon as symbolic as the picket fence in The Hand the Rocks the Cradle) as it is an excuse for cheap thrills and vicarious voyeurism. Young boys get to unleash their inner Peeping Tom on the bikini-clad girl next door. Within that context, moments of sexuality and violence, juxtaposed occasionally for effect, test the bounds of the PG-13. Somewhere, someone thinks 13-year-olds should be exposed to the rotting remains of murdered women and clips of nude females cupping their breasts in porn videos. Call me paranoid, but I suspect it was someone from Hollywood, not from the suburbs of middle America.