'Disturbia' director mixes genres

Disturbia director D.J. Caruso and his wife have four kids and another on the way.

Disturbia director D.J. Caruso and his wife have four kids and another on the way.

-- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

D.J. Caruso had some interesting ideas when he set out to direct a teen thriller -- chief among them that the film not be stupid. The result, Disturbia, is a nifty combination of genres, with scares and suspense paired with teen angst and romance. The film opens tomorrow.

Shia LaBeouf stars in Disturbia as Kale, a housebound adolescent living in the suburbs. Out of boredom, he begins to watch his neighbours and notice their daily routines. There's the pretty girl who just moved in next door, for example. Some guy on the block is having an affair with the family maid. And then there's the neighbour who appears to be a mild-mannered serial killer

"The PG-13 (in the U.S.; PG in Canada) thriller has this expected element of gore and shocks and really not being about anything," says Caruso, who visited Toronto this week to promote Disturbia. "For me, the story was about this character, Kale, and what he was experiencing. So, if we can see him fall in love and become infatuated with this girl and hope he can get this girl, what would it be like if we could combine that element with the thriller element?"

We can answer that: It would be like a combination of Rear Window and Say Anything.

"It all really reminded me of teenage life itself," he says. "You're laughing one minute, then you're looking at a beautiful girl, then you're scared out of your wits when your imagination runs wild. I was quite proud we combined genres and made it work. And it made it a smarter PG-13 movie than most. I'm proud of that."

Caruso, a native of Connecticut, is a graduate of Pepperdine University. He started in the entertainment industry as a production assistant, eventually directing TV series (episodes of Smallville and The Shield among them) and movies; he made his feature film directorial debut in 2002 with The Salton Sea, a noirish Val Kilmer vehicle you may wish to run out and rent on DVD. Right now. He also directed Two For The Money, with Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey, and Taking Lives, with Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke.

Caruso says that regardless of genre, he puts a bit of himself in every film he makes. "Otherwise, it's not a personal film at all and you're just a director for hire."

Disturbia opens with a pleasant father and son fishing scene between LaBeouf and Matt Craven, who plays his screen dad, and Caruso says it's a loving nod to his own late father. "I lost my dad to cancer when he was 63, so I lost him very young. He was Italian, a hairdresser, and he always had Mondays off, so Mondays were the day I went around with my father. We hit golf balls, we ran errands, and that's when I got to see all the great movies I grew up on ... so yeah, there's a little of my reality in there."

He continues, "The gift of being a filmmaker is that you get to work out some of your issues. In a way, it's good to have cinema as therapy."

Movies are not all Caruso is making

D.J. (Daniel John) Caruso is not only making movies but apparently helping create an audience for them, too -- the filmmaker and his wife have four kids who range in age from toddler up to 12, and are expecting their fifth child in August.

"They just keep coming," says Caruso, with mock amazement.

He asks, "You know how they always say (a woman) can't get pregnant when (she's) breastfeeding?" He smiles. "(She) can."

Caruso, who smiles a lot, grew up with a brother and a sister. "But I grew up in Fairfield County in Connecticut, where I have 111 relatives within 35 miles. Big extended Italian family. My wife's from Chicago, and in L.A. we're so isolated, we don't have family on that side of the Mississippi, and I think that's why we keep populating our own family."

It spills over into his work. There's a pack of pesky little kids in Disturbia who ride around the neighbourhood on bikes and bother Kale a lot.

Caruso says, "For the movie, I wanted very real kids, not actory kids. Two of the three 'brats' in the story are my sons."


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