I like Suburbia as a setting for thrillers, we all know how the homogeneous façade of ‘normal’ crumbles so easily, and in these two films, made eighteen years apart, we can see two approaches to similar themes.
‘The Burbs’ (1989) was a comedy thriller set in a fictional Chicago neighbourhood, with Tom Hanks as the hero ‘Ray Peterson’ who, egged on by bored and quirky neighbours (Rick Ducummon and Bruce Dern) investigates the Klopeks who live next door. Events are observed by Ricky (Corey Feldman) and protested against by Carol, his wife (Carrie Fischer). I loved this film as a kid and it is still quite amusing – some scenes still making me laugh even after all this time. The pettiness that goes on between the neighbours, the way they all relate to each other and how, in effect, suburbia is quite unnatural in lumping together such individuals in a small area simply by the random choice of house.
Disturbia (2007) however is a thriller with humour/romance and has Kale (Shia LeBoef) as a teen under house arrest for the summer who takes to watching his neighbours out of boredom and begins to suspect the man next door is a mass murderer. He enlists the help of the girl next door and his best friend to investigate. Like ‘The Burbs’, this film take place over summer break, an ideal stretch of time for events of this kind that won’t be interrupted by work or school. Both films deal with the relationship an individual has with their immediate location and their neighbours and each era the film was made in adds something unique to the premise.
One big difference is the technology available to do the spying. In The ‘Burbs there is just simple watching and observation from windows, rooftops and gardens, traditional telescopes and curtain twitching. It’s not the time of mobile phone or pagers or even the Internet. Rumours and hearsay and word of mouth emphasising the idea that communities have their own urban myths and street lore. The slightly claustrophobic and tense feeling is created by the action not leaving the cul-de-sac. People move in and out of this space, but the main characters remain. The restriction is self imposed, everyone locked into their own world and reluctant to leave.
In Disturbia, the main protagonist is under house arrest, the boundaries of his movement restricted by external events. The spying is taken outside the home environment using mobile phone and internet connection giving the notion that the home is not the limited space it was before; that we connect to the outside world via – x-box, i-tunes, phone, TV, and, without them we feel trapped. The lack of connection technologically however forces Kale to connect with the outside world and in doing so discovers more about the place he lives in. Being trapped and watching the world outside is also reminiscent of ‘Rear Window’
To be continued….