Today’s feature is a 1998 high school set science-fiction horror movie not call The Faculty: Disturbing Behavior.
The plot of Disturbing Behavior is summarized on IMDb as follows:
The new kid in town stumbles across something sinister about the town’s method of transforming its unruly teens into upstanding citizens.
Disturbing Behavior was written by Scott Rosenberg, who also penned screenplays for High Fidelity, Con Air, Kangaroo Jack, Gone In Sixty Seconds, and the upcoming Jumanji reboot.
The director for Disturbing Behavior was David Nutter, who has done extensive directing work for television shows like Game of Thrones, The X-Files, The Flash, Arrow, Homeland, The Mentalist, The Sopranos, Supernatural, and The West Wing, among others.
The cinematographer for the picture was John S. Bartley, who shot the film Wrong Turn, and also worked extensively on television shows like 21 Jump Street, The X-Files, Lost, and Bates Motel.
The music for the movie was composed by Mark Snow, who provided music for shows like The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen, Starsky & Hutch, and T.J. Hooker over his career.
The cast of Disturbing Behavior is made up of James Marsden (Westworld, X-Men), Katie Holmes (Phone Booth, The Singing Detective, Batman Begins), Nick Stahl (Terminator 3, Sin City), Steve Railsback (Nukie, Lifeforce, Deadly Games), Bruce Greenwood (Capote, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Thirteen Days), Katharine Isabelle (American Mary, Ginger Snaps), and William Sadler (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile).
Although an original director’s cut of Disturbing Behavior was approved by the studio for release, the feature was forced into re-cutting by the studio after a mixed test-screening that yielding criticisms of the ending and a sex scene, which were both ultimately removed. In response to the studio interference, the director tried to have his name removed from the movie, but eventually allowed it to remain in spite of his reservations. The director’s cut of the movie has never been released officially, though all of the removed scenes are featured as extras on the official DVD release.
The movie currently holds a 5.5/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 35% from critics and 39% from audiences, making it overall pretty poorly regarded.
Disturbing Behavior had a lifetime domestic box office total of $17.5 million on an estimated budget of $15 million, which I assume probably made it break even with relatively low advertising costs. However, I’m sure that a far more lucrative return was hoped for.
Holmes and Marsden are both perfectly serviceable supporting actors if you ask me, but I don’t think that either of them are emotive enough to carry a feature as a lead. In a best case scenario, they could lean on their co-lead to carry them. But, as is the case in this movie, when both leads are stone-faced pseudo-stoics, the movie as a whole suffers.
That said, for as much as Marsden and Holmes don’t work in this movie, Stahl does. His character feels a little more tangible and real than everyone around him, despite some moments of ridiculously quippy dialogue. When his character is eventually turned, his performance really makes it work, and is really the saving grace of the movie.
Something that bothered me a bit while watching the movie was the fact that not much time was given to exploring the hormonal rage side effect exhibited by a few of the characters. I thought this was the major conflict would come in during the climax: that eventually all of the students would be in a permanent rage-state as a result of their surgeries, leading them to attack everything that moves. While that would be less Stepford-like, which is what the movie was clearly going for, I think it could have made for an interesting sort of youth-in-revolt, generational conflict movie.
Speaking of the concept, I like the general idea of putting The Stepford Wives in a high school. There are a lot of social dynamics at work there, most prominently the fear of unruly youth in rebellion, the social dynamics of high school cliques, and the control each generation tries to exert upon the next. That said, this film didn’t quite capitalize on this potential, mostly by not showing much of the adult plot and motivations. Also, I think there was a missed potential here for a race angle: the violence people fear in schools, particularly “inner-city” ones, is almost always spawned from racism, something that isn’t at all addressed here (until the stinger at the end of the film, in a minor way). The in-group / out-group dynamic would also have been far more powerful from that perspective, and the film could have even had a plot based around the idea of school integration. Alas, it is what it is.
As with most high school movies, Disturbing Behavior just can’t resist bowing to the overdone, cartoonish, and exaggerated clique divides that dominate the genre. While the in-group out-group dynamic does serve a purpose for the plot, the initial introduction to the school introduced a ton of different “classes” which are never brought back up again. So, why even include E-heads and nerds if they don’t play into the story at all? Ultimately, this story is a conflict between the “fixed” kids and everyone else, so these other cliques weren’t ever necessary to establish.
Another pretty serious issue with this movie is the evil plot at the center of it. Not only is the villain a cartoonish (yet not entertaining) caricature of a mad scientist (who utters “science is god” just prior to being defeated), but his plot hinges entirely on the idea that all of the parents in the town will universally agree to mind control their children. If even one set of parents refuses to comply and reports him, the gig is up. The story never even addresses this issue: the parents are all more than happy to subject their children to experimental brain surgery without their consent, which is almost as fucked up as it is wildly unrealistic.
From reading about the crew, it was interesting to see how many of the key members came from an explicitly television background. Somewhat predictably, the movie looks and feels like it belongs on television as a result: something about the style seems more fit for a TV movie than a feature release. And, honestly, I think this movie probably could have been made as a television movie if they had creatively avoided some of the unnecessary CGI shots, and hired down with the casting a little more.
Overall, Disturbing Behavior is weighed down a lot by the lack of chemistry between the leads, some lazy writing that doesn’t do the intriguing concept justice, and a studio-interfered final cut that loses some key details. With all of that said, it is easily as watchable as any given episode of a late season of The X-Files.
I would recommend giving it a shot if you happen to come across it somewhere organically, but I don’t think it is worth specifically seeking out. The Faculty, its better-regarded and more fondly-remembered psuedo-twin, is just a lot more fun: it has a better comedic voice to contrast the dark scenario, and has a far more dynamic and sympathetic cast of characters. It think Disturbing Behavior is rightfully overshadowed by it, and the comparisons it draws will always leave it with the short end of the stick.