Disturbing Behavior (1998)

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Director David Nutter and writer Scott Rosenberg take a page from Ira Levin’s “The Stepford Wives” to offer nineties kids a modern take on the author’s novel. Who am I kidding? The pair rip chapters from author Levin and basically just retro-fit it for a modern audience, when all is said and done. “Disturbing Behavior” is basically “The Stepford Wives” except replacing the commentary on conservative men adjusting to the rising tide of feminism, we’re given a town of parents so unwilling to work on their kids they’d much rather just operate on them to make them in to model citizens.

The film is by no means a masterpiece. With its concept about turning bad kids in to good ones, Nutter is given the opportunity to comment on society’s lack of parental units, and the inherent laziness of parents. Not to mention civilization’s obsession with quick fixes. But instead it resorts to a rote drama thriller about psychotic teens wreaking havoc on their town. James Marsden plays Steve, a new kid in town with his parents and young sister who happens to notice an odd hierarchy among the kids in his high school. They’re all broken up in to groups of jocks and Goths, and your usual legion of social groups. There’s even the dreamy Rachel (played by a gorgeous Katie Holmes) who outright embraces her Goth style and rejects the hive aggressively, despite their intimidating presence in school. But with the help of town reject Gavin, played by Nick Stahl, he begins to realize that many of the once reckless and irresponsible teens experience a sudden urge to become upright citizens who think in a hive mentality.

Nick Stahl plays the role of Gavin well, the plot device used to provide exposition and clarity to the events unfolding, while Marsden is the ideal candidate for the gradual process occurring all around the town. He’s square jawed, blue eyed, and can present the mold for what the program is striving for, ultimately. The problem is that the now fixed teenagers begin to glitch and eventually become erratic and psychotic to the point where self-mutilation and murder become an expected result. This sets up the metaphor for the teenagers loathing themselves when subdued and forced in to taking on the form of someone they simply aren’t. The subtext is still somewhat side stepped in favor of cheap scares and mild violence, while the town’s authorities play along, anxious to serve a town where its youths are contributors to society rather than unique personalities with their own talents and gifts.

“Disturbing Behavior” lags in many places, and feels like Kevin Williamson lite, but when it picks up the pace, it can be a morbid little dramatic thriller, especially when Gavin becomes one of the hive mid-way, posing a new threat for Marsden’s character and his love interest Rachel. “Disturbing Behavior” presents a lot of interesting ideas and could very well be a brilliant look at a new extreme of EZ parenting for the middle class America sect, but it’s really just a horror thriller pandering to its target audience, in the end. Surely, it’s a definite solid thriller with very good performances, it just could be so much more with a little polish on the screenplay.