Directed by David Nutter
Produced by Armyan Bernstein & Jonathan Shestack
Starring James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Steve Railsback, Bruce Greenwood, William Sadler, Chad Donella, Ethan Embry, Katharine Isabelle, AJ Buckley, Crystal Cass
Give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself. Give a major American studio a good director and screenwriter (as well as an "against-the-grain" project) and they're sure to do the same thing to said creative team. David Nutter ("The X Files", "Millennium") and Stuart Rosenberg ("Con Air") came up with a great anti-teen horror teen horror idea, a variant on "The Stepford Wives", but once distribution company MGM cast their blinkered eyes over it the characterisation-rich project was effectively vetoed. Then, to make the whole thing more marketable to teenagers, the suits started ordering judicious edits to Nutter's 110m film. What finally debuted in theatres was an eviscerated 84m edition that only resembled Nutter's cut in spirit. To be fair though, even at 84m "Disturbing Behavior" is still a cut above the usual standards set by the current teen-horror sub-genre. How and why is where we head next…
Following the suicide of his elder brother, Steve Clark (Marsden) and his family uproot from their Chicago home, relocating to the idyllic remoteness of Cradle Bay to start afresh. Cradle Bay appears a place too good to be true. No teenage drunkenness, no reckless automotive exuberance, no wild parties, in fact very little of the behaviour you would expect of any healthy teenager. Not to mention the "Blue Ribbons", a clique of students whose outward perfection seems far too extraordinary to be the mere product of natural selection. Bonding with school outcasts Rachel (Holmes) and Gavin (Stahl), Steve progressively becomes aware that all is not what it would seem. School physician Dr. Caldicott (Greenwood) offers successful learning retreats for students, promising better grades, improved attitudes, and more productive input into their community for the parents of Cradle Bay.
Why then, does the school's janitor Dorian Newberry (Sadler) rant of an evil afoot in the shadows? How come local lawman Officer Cox (Railsback) seems to have such a close association with Dr. Caldicott? Why does "Blue Ribbons" honour student Chug (Buckley) have such a hard time controlling his rage? When former stoner and under-performer Gavin is enlisted in Caldicott's program, only to come out the other side unrecognisable to his friends, Steve and Rachel decide to dig beneath the surface of picture-perfect façade of Cradle Bay. What they find is far more disturbing than either could have imagined.
Nestled somewhere in between the new wave of teen horror flicks, and an episode of "The X Files", "Disturbing Behavior" may not be the best of the recent crop, but it certainly is an inspired step into new territory for the genre. Marsden and Holmes make for great leads, while Nutter plays with the conventions of the genre then tips them on their head. Not bound by the constraints of his television roots ("The X Files", "Millennium"), he is given freer reign to be a bit harder edged in the violence, explore the sexuality of his characters more explicitly, and grant his players tougher dialogue than network sensibilities would permit. Pleasantly, it all works quite effectively, the jumbled mess of plot attempted by MGM's judicious cuts notwithstanding. Most surprising is that Nutter's film remained coherent at all after the studio tallied up a staggering half hour in edits. Best described as an appropriation of "Stepford Teens", the film operates on a level of paranoia comparative with Nutter's television work, elevating the teen horror premise by not simply settling with one killer, but a whole town of them! Thus, an attractive young cast, the familiar sound of Mark Snow paired with alternative hits by the likes of the The Flys & Hutt, and solid direction by Nutter would make "Disturbing Behavior" a sure-fire teen horror hit, right? Sadly, it's less than dynamic box-office reception saw it resigned to a video premiere in the UK.
Uniquely, MGM's R1 DVD allows viewers the chance to see why Nutter's film failed to capture some of the business its predecessors had generated. On the movie side of the equation, the presentation is pretty flawless. The usual pin-sharp image quality you've come to expect of MGM's recent anamorphic releases is complemented by an immersive Dolby 5.1 soundscape. Where things begin to add up though, is in the additional features not present of the R2 & R4 discs distributed by Columbia abroad. Having curtailed the preparation of his 110m Director's Cut for DVD, MGM have been gracious enough to allow Nutter the luxury of an Audio commentary to explain both the back-story behind the evolution of the film, the edits imposed upon him, and valuable space to flesh out the character development that seems lacking in the short cut. In addition, nearly half an hour's worth of Deleted Scenes are included, with optional commentary by the director, giving an insight into what the film might have been. These scenes are revelatory to say the least, giving signs that "Disturbing Behavior" was (once) one of the better written of the recent teen cycle. These elements alone give the R1 disc the edge over the flatter Columbia editions.
Extras are completed by a music video for The Flys "Got You (Where I Want You)" and the Theatrical trailer, which was obviously designed by MGM to do the hard sell for a film they perceived as a difficult commodity. At the end of the day, "Disturbing Behavior" is a welcome addition to the teen horror cycle (one that I am not too proud to admitting having enjoyed thus far), albeit better written and constructed than most by daring to be different. There are some pleasantly unnerving moments that heighten the atmosphere, some genuine surprises, a neat score by Snow, and some fine performances by the leads. Being a closet Katie Holmes fan probably helped (Oops! That's out now), and I feel that James Marsden will be a young actor to watch in future, given a project more adept of his obvious talents. If you're a fan of the teen-slasher avenue of the sub-genre, give this one a wide berth, but if you've followed David Nutter's career with interest, then this tale of creeping paranoia is definitely worth checking out.
*Also available R2 & R4 through Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment minus David Nutter's Audio commentary & the Deleted Scenes, but inclusive of Cast filmographies
Review by Mike Thomason
|Released by MGM/UA|
|Rated R - Region 1 (NTSC)|
|Running time - 84m|
|Ratio - Widescreen 1.85 (Anamorphic)|
|Audio - Dolby digital 5.1|
|Audio commentary by David Nutter, Deleted scenes, Music video, Theatrical trailer|
© 2001, Icon In Black MediaBack