As long as there have been teens, there have been troubled teens. Adolescence is brutal, a time when people have to learn to be adults and leave childhood behind, all while dealing with raging hormones and a changing body. There are plenty of movies about murderous teens that play on adults’ fears about that turbulent time in their own lives, but what about movies where troubled teens are both the victims and the heroes? Long before the utterly brilliant “Spontaneous” offered audiences the perfect allegory for surviving school shootings, a messy but star-studded 1998 film delved into how terrifying being a teenager can be. “Disturbing Behavior” is by no means a good movie — the studio-mandated cuts made the plot almost absurd and there are some deeply problematic elements — but it created a “Stepford Wives”-inspired metaphor for surviving high school that it is surprisingly apt even today.
The movie had a troubled run to theaters that ended with negative reviews and poor box office performance, but it has some interesting things to say about how adults can treat teenagers and their problems. Instead of talking to their children or trying to help them be better people, “Disruptive Behavior” parents actually change their children’s brains with reprogramming, which has terrifying implications in our real world. Many adults no longer see teens or children as real people, but see their behavior as a problem that needs to be solved. It’s a real nightmare, and today’s teens know it all too well.
“Disturbing Behavior” follows Steve (James Marsden), who moves from Chicago to the small town of Cradle Bay in Washington state after his older brother takes his own life. Desperate and uninterested in starting over in a new town, Steve joins a group of outcasts, including Gavin (Nick Stahl), UV (Chad Donella), and Rachel (Katie Holmes). Gavin tells him that something is deeply wrong with the Blue Ribbons, the cabal of rich, preppy kids who wear sweater vests and talk like Patrick Bateman, and soon after, Gavin ends up becoming part of the Blue Ribbons, with all dead. fixed gaze and neatly pressed button-down shirt. It turns out that the school psychiatrist is using a brain implant to make the kids behave, turning them from what they really are into zombies from the J. Crew catalog. It is quite similar to the plot of Ira Levin’s novel “The Stepford Wives”, in which misbehaving women are changed in much the same way by the oppressors who reprogram them.
Steve and Rachel face some harrowing experiences at the hands of the reprogrammed teenagers, but the reprogramming in these cases feels like social conditioning. One of the Blue Ribbons sexually assaults Rachel in the school’s boiler room, and the only help she gets is from the mentally challenged school janitor (William Sadler). He has nowhere to turn except Steve, because Blue Ribbon’s word will always be better than hers. It’s a brutal lesson in classism and misogyny, but the real trouble comes when Steve and Rachel are set to be reprogrammed.
There are many horrors facing contemporary teens in America: school shootings are more frequent than ever, pregnant teens no longer have options when it comes to their own bodies, and LGBTQ+ teens face increasingly stringent regulations. Adults are trying to control teenagers in every possible way, taking away their autonomy and making decisions for them, and that’s horrible. I can only imagine what some conservative lawmakers would do if they could get their hands on the technology in “Disturbing Behavior,” creating a perfect army of creepy, boring losers who only care about feeding their own egos and maintaining the status quo. Even parents and educators who might not otherwise condone or accept this sort of thing could be swayed by the way teens have been painted in the media, often blamed for problems they have only inherited.
Rather than address why misbehaving teens do so, the adults in “Disruptive Behavior” just seek to stop the problem at all costs. Just as schools install metal detectors and teach lockdown drills instead of tackling the larger issues that have led to more than 40 school shootings in the past year, the onus for surviving high school intact falls on the young, and that is not fair or conducive to a dignified future for anyone.
children deserve better
Most people will only remember “Disturbing Behavior” from its trailer, which featured Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta,” but it deserves a mention on the great list of 1990s sci-fi movies because it tapped into something that was relevant then. and it is relevant now. This isn’t the first teen vs. adult story by any stretch of the imagination, but it presents a lot of ideas in a pretty forceful way, forcing audiences to confront the fact that teens deserve bodily autonomy. There may be a better version of the film out there somewhere, as director David Nutter (“The X-Files,” “Game of Thrones”) has said there is a director’s cut with over 30 minutes more footage. Instead of a fragmented movie that doesn’t make much sense from scene to scene, there’s a potentially killer riff on “Stepford Wives” featuring some great young stars we’ve never gotten to see.
Maybe one day we’ll get the director’s cut and find out if “Disturbed” has any more timeless tidbits about how terrible it is to be a teenager. But for now, it’s just a haunting footnote that only gets more potent with time. It’s not as funny as “The College” or as iconic as “Scream,” but “Disruptive Behavior” doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.
Read This Next: The 95 Best Sci-Fi Movies Of All Time
The post A Forgotten 90s Sci-Fi Movie Predicted The Nightmare World Of Gen Z appeared first on /Film.
Leave a Reply