Streaming has done a lot of good for the world, but it’s also done a number on one of my favorite ‘90s films. A 1998 sci-fi thriller that’s become a commentary on just what we see as acceptable adolescent conduct, only the censored version is streaming, while the full cut couldn’t even be found on, shall we say, other sources.
So why should you still watch Disturbing Behavior? There are many reasons, in spite of flaws which can mostly be laid at the feet of studio skittishness. It’s not that films about unreasonable, out-of-touch adults persecuting terrified teenagers haven’t been made before. But what makes Disturbing Behavior so unsettling is how much the dark currents weaving their way through the small, isolated town of Cradle Bay still reflect the troubled waters of contemporary society.
In a typical case of an actor who is way too old for the role we have James Marden, then 25, playing a teenager named Steve who uncovers a horrifying conspiracy after his family moves to a seemingly sunny and upbeat town. But Marsden is game and committed as he unravels a teenager’s worst nightmare amid a group of cheerful, concerned authorities sending out some classic cult vibes amid their determination to regress to the ‘50s.
What’s your favorite sci-fi movie? Fill out this form for a chance to get paid to write an article for Inverse.
It’s not hard to picture a few modern media personalities who would be right at home in Cradle Bay, which is ruled by Dr. Edgar Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) and his twisted children, the Blue Ribbons. An official club and unofficial clique comprised of letter jacket jocks and cheerleaders with a strict code of squeaky clean conduct, they’re aided and abetted by all authority figures. That includes Caldicott himself, a pillar of the community who’s lauded as a heroic rescuer and reformer of troubled kids, as well as the school principal and local police chief. It’s a chilling scenario in an era before cell phones smashed through claims of justifiable use of force.
Steve isn’t a cartoonish rebel, but he is a genuine individual who’s uninterested in upright extracurriculars or conforming to the program. He quickly finds a community of fellow outcasts in stoner Gavin (a baby-faced Nick Stahl) and Rachel, which was a shrewd role for Katie Holmes. Holmes had just recently shot to fame as virginal good girl Joey in the soapy drama Dawson’s Creek, and she’s plainly determined to showcase her range in what was only her second feature.
Rachel is certainly miles away from the demure Joey, with her midriff shirts, nose ring, penchant for swearing, and surly attitude indicating her lack of interest in what authorities deem good girl behavior. As Roger Ebert put it, Rachel “is a bad girl who is in great danger of becoming a very good one.”
They may look like stoners, but Disturbing Behavior has more on its mind …….