The Untapped Promise of ‘Disturbing Behavior’

October 30th, 2023 | By Patricia Miranda

Disturbing Behavior James Marsden

If there is an undisputed contender in the what-ifs of cinema history, it would have to be Disturbing Behavior. Directed by David Nutter and written by Scott Rosenberg, this science fiction and horror film had all the ingredients to become a cult classic that would leave an impression on audiences. However, due to extensive editing, the film unfortunately lost some of its essence, resulting in a final product that fell short of expectations.

Disturbing Behavior takes us into the unsettling story of Steve Clark, a new student at a high school in the seemingly idyllic small town of Cradle Bay. The town is known for teenagers who display remarkably well-behaved behavior. Nevertheless, as the plot unravels, a dark secret is revealed, exposing the true intentions behind their actions.

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This thought-provoking film from the ’90s delves deep into the complexities of human psychology and raises questions about society’s relentless pursuit of perfection. Steve Clark’s rebellion against the town’s artificial utopia serves as a catalyst, inspiring others to question their own behavior and highlighting the importance of staying true to oneself. With an intriguing concept and a talented cast – including future stars James Marsden and Katie Holmes – this film undeniably had immense potential from the start.

As Disturbing Behavior celebrates its 25th anniversary, it is crucial to acknowledge the significant and enduring influence it has made and continues to make, even after a quarter of a century.

Disturbing Behavior effectively utilizes cinematic techniques, employing visual cues and atmospheric elements to establish a deeply disturbing and tension-filled atmosphere that permeates every frame. From the skillful use of lighting to the carefully chosen color palette, every aspect of the film’s visual design enhances the overall viewing experience, immersing the audience in the enigmatic and mysterious world of Cradle Bay.

However, it is not just the visual aspects that contribute to the film’s success in creating a palpable sense of unease. The sound design, too, is masterfully executed, amplifying the psychological thrills experienced by viewers. The use of subtle background noises and discordant sounds contributes to an auditory experience that adds to the tension on screen.

It is worth mentioning the iconic soundtrack of Disturbing Behavior that features alternative rock bands like The Verve Pipe, Garbage, and Harvey Danger. The bands effectively complement the movie’s dark and atmospheric tone. The music becomes an integral part of the viewing experience, enhancing the emotional impact of each scene while simultaneously evoking a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era.

This sci-fi horror film serves as a clear example of how crucial the editing process is in shaping the final outcome of a film. Initially, the director presented a 115-minute version of the film. However, after the first test screening, it was determined that the film needed to be shortened to 95 minutes to captivate the audience’s attention effectively. Further screenings resulted in additional edits, including a new ending. The final cut of the film ended up being 84 minutes in length. This deeply affected the director, causing him to contemplate removing his name from the film due to the compromised artistic vision.

The character arcs in Disturbing Behavior were severely impacted by the editing decisions made during post-production, resulting in a lack of narrative coherence and underdeveloped personalities. The missing scenes and hasty resolutions of subplots and relationships left the storylines disjointed and inconsistent, leaving viewers confused at times. This led to shallow portrayals of characters and a failure to explore their complex emotions and motivations in depth. The excessive cuts fragmented the individual stories, preventing the audience from forming a strong emotional connection with the characters and fully immersing themselves in the film’s world.

By prioritizing pacing over character development, the film missed an opportunity to reach its full potential. The film’s themes – such as societal conformity, teenage rebellion, and the loss of individuality – were overshadowed or completely ignored in favor of creating a more commercially appealing product. Consequently, the film lost its essence and became just another generic teenage thriller.

Upon its release, the film garnered a range of reactions from critics, resulting in a mixed reception. Opinions were divided, with some embracing and celebrating the film’s strengths, while others lamented the missed opportunities and shortcomings they perceived.

A director’s cut of Disturbing Behavior has emerged over time, allowing audiences to catch a glimpse of the film’s unrealized potential. With its unique blend of genres and a narrative that sparks contemplation, the movie has experienced a resurgence in popularity. This newfound appreciation has led to the formation of a dedicated cult following, which has ultimately contributed to the film’s redemption.

The revised version of Disturbing Behavior includes restored deleted scenes, resulting in a more coherent storyline that enhances the overall viewing experience. Additionally, the original ending has been reinstated, providing fans with the opportunity to appreciate certain overlooked aspects of the film. As a result, it has become a favorite among enthusiasts of both psychological thrillers and science fiction, prompting a critical reassessment that highlights its strengths. 

Although Disturbing Behavior may not have achieved box office success upon its initial release, its influence continues to thrive through DVD releases, streaming platforms, and vibrant fan communities. These platforms allow for the exploration of societal pressures and conformity, themes that remain relevant today as they did over two decades ago when the film was first released.

Undoubtedly, Disturbing Behavior has left an indelible mark on subsequent teen thrillers. Films such as The Faculty and Final Destination have drawn inspiration from their exploration of teenage angst and manipulation. The success of Disturbing Behavior has paved the way for more nuanced portrayals of teenage characters in thrillers, influencing an entire subgenre of films.

The legacy of Disturbing Behavior continues to resonate with audiences today as it explores societal norms and the pressure to conform. This exploration remains relevant and timely while the film challenges viewers to question the status quo and consider the consequences of blindly following societal expectations. It serves as a powerful reminder that embracing true individuality and self-expression is vital, rather than suppressing it. 

Whether you are a fan of psychological thrillers or simply seeking a captivating film that pushes boundaries, Disturbing Behavior deserves a spot at the top of your must-watch list. Its ability to engage viewers intellectually and emotionally guarantees a memorable viewing experience. 

Patricia Miranda

Patricia Miranda is a freelance writer, photographer and production manager based in Mexico City. She has 15 years of experience in TV post-production and she has been published with movie/tv reviews and features in online magazines.

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