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Film / Disturbing Behavior

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In Cradle Bay, it doesn't matter if you're not perfect. You will be.

Disturbing Behavior is a 1998 Teen Sci-Fi Horror film directed by X-Files veteran David Nutter, which can best be described as The Stepford Wives for the Scream generation.

The film follows Steve Clark (James Marsden), a high school senior who has just moved to the town of Cradle Bay, Washington with his family. Here, he befriends three outcastsstoners Gavin Strick (Nick Stahl) and UV (Chad E. Donella), and "bad girl" Rachel (Katie Holmes). Gavin has long been suspicious about the "Blue Ribbons," a group of preppy, highly intelligent and snobbish douchebags who are considered the school's "cream of the crop" and take part in a program led by the school's psychologist, Dr. Edgar Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood). The four students find out that the Blue Ribbons are far more sinister than they let up on, and may in fact be brainwashed... and that they are next.


  • Abusive Parents:
    • Dr. Caldicott experimented on his own daughter to create the Blue Ribbon brainwashing program and then had her locked away in an insane asylum to keep anyone from finding out what happened to her.
    • The parents of the Blue Ribbons, who allowed Caldicott to implant their children with mind-controlling brain microchips that turned them into model citizens.
  • Almighty Janitor: Mr. Newberry. Despite being the school janitor and appearing to be insane, he is highly intelligent and merely Obfuscating Stupidity, carrying several pieces of classical literature with him. A deleted scene reveals him to be a former psychologist who found out the truth behind the Blue Ribbon program, and was fired for it.
  • Bedlam House: The psychiatric hospital where the initial failed test subjects for the Blue Ribbon program (including Dr. Caldicott's daughter) are being kept. Steve and Rachel break in after finding out about it.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Extended to an entire town — parents move here with their troubled teens so that they will be "made" into model students and citizens.
  • Brainwashed: All of the Blue Ribbons are former outcasts and delinquents who were brought to Cradle Bay and had mind control chips implanted in their brains.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: The mind control programming sometimes glitches out, causing the students to become violently insane and attack people nearby.
  • Brown Note: The E-Rat-icator is designed to have this effect on rodents to scare them away, but it doesn't really work. It works damn well against mind-control chips, however.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The E-Rat-icator turns out to be an invaluable weapon against the Blue Ribbons.
    • One of the deleted scenes has Dr. Caldicott talking about his daughter's success with the Blue Ribbon program, going on to Stanford and marrying a district attorney. A later scene reveals that he's lying through his teeth — his daughter is actually locked up in a mental hospital due to what he did to her. Removing the first scene badly lessened the impact of The Reveal, both emotionally and story-wise.
    • A literal example: early in the film, Steve takes away the handgun that Gavin was carrying, thinking that he was going to try and kill his parents and the Blue Ribbons. A deleted scene shows his mother finding the gun in his room, causing her to call Dr. Caldicott.
  • Clique Tour: Gavin gives new kid Steve the tour of various cliques at Cradle Bay High, with color commentary from his sidekick, U.V.
  • Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: Chug says this to Rachel in the boiler room.
  • Disney Villain Death: How the Blue Ribbons and Dr. Caldicott both go down.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Blue Ribbon procedure is essentially Conversion Therapy or a "troubled teen" camp condensed into a several minute medical procedure.
  • Dying as Yourself: Happens to Gavin in the original ending, where he laments the fact that he will never be able to meet his idol, Trent Reznor.
  • Entitled to Have You: Any Blue Ribbon toward anyone who happens to take their fancy, but the worst case is Chug toward Rachel. At first he asks her out normally, but when she declines, he makes it clear that she has no right to refuse, and that he can do whatever he likes with her and get away with it because he's a Blue Ribbon and a football star, and she's "Cook's Ridge trash". After that, only violence or the E-Rat-icator can keep him at bay. By late in the movie, he accuses Steve of "stealing my custard", as if he was not only entitled to have her, but she was already his possession.
  • Erudite Stoner: Gavin, initially.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Gavin, after getting brainwashed.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner:
  • Freudian Excuse: In one of the cut scenes, Mr. Newberry gives us one for the whole town; three years prior to the events of the film, four drunk high school students had a car accident with a local "pillar of the community" and her young son, killing all six. It was "one more heartache than the town could stand". Now the people of Cradle Bay consider it a fair trade if their children "don't laugh or dance no more" as long as they don't "drive drunk no more" either.
  • Genius Book Club: One of the early signs that Mr Newberry is an Almighty Janitor is that he's reading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • Glamour Failure: The glitches that cause the Blue Ribbons to go crazy.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mr. Newberry kills himself by going over a cliff in his car and takes all of the Blue Ribbons with him.
  • In-Series Nickname: Mr. Newberry calls Steve "lunch boy".
  • Ironic Echo: "Be the ball!"
  • Jerk Jock: The male Blue Ribbons are almost every "asshole jock" stereotype rolled together and cranked up to eleven, kicking the dog about once every ten minutes.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • Dr. Caldicott's daughter, who is locked up in a mental institution, constantly repeats the phrase "Meet the musical little creatures that hide among the flowers".
    • When the resident school hottie "glitches" in Steve's presence (because she wants to bang him but the chip won't let her) she repeats "Bad, wrong, wrong, bad" before breaking a mirror with her forehead, then trying to shank Steve.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Mr. Newberry and Dr. Caldicott are both named for awards given to children's books. The Newbery Medal is for contributions to literature, while the Caldecott Medal is for pretty artwork — and the Blue Ribbon program is all about keeping up appearances.
    • The albino kid, who gets easily sunburnt, is named UV. Then again, that could just be his nickname.
  • Malt Shop: The Blue Ribbons hang out here. Gavin notes how anachronistic such a place is in The '90s.
    Gavin: The Yogurt Shoppe? You wanna make an 'active culture' joke here, Stevie boy, or should I handle this one?
  • Ms. Fanservice: Laura opens her shirt for Steve and tries to kiss him. It becomes Fan Disservice when she then smashes her head into the mirror.
  • Neck Snap: Done in the opening scene.
  • Never a Runaway: Gavin tells Steve that he saw Andy kill Mary-Jo in a police officer's presence, but that he can't prove it and that everybody's saying she ran away.
  • No Questions Asked: Played with. The parents of Blue Ribbons do ask some questions, though sometimes far too late, but it seems clear that they never asked the real question: what exactly does Caldicott do to their children that causes a complete personality reset in a mere matter of days? They're just too desperate to have their "troubled" teenagers "fixed. Also, even when they do ask questions, Caldicott blatantly lies to them.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Steve when Lorna's programming glitches up and she tries to sleep with him. When he turns her down, she goes homicidal.
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: Caldicott first appears to be amicable towards new students and wants to assist them with their problems, but it’s merely a guise to mind-control them for the sake of his ego. What makes it worse is that he made his daughter Betty the first to be experimented on simply because “she wasn’t that bright to begin with”, showing that he has contempt for teenagers.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Mr. Newberry, who lampshades this.
    Mr. Newberry: Haven't you ever wanted to just disappear, lunch boy? Poof, you're gone? You'd be surprised how interesting people become when they think you're really stupid.
  • Out with a Bang: The opening scene features one of the Blue Ribbons snapping the neck of a girl giving him head, then calling her a slut.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: Dickie and his Mustang, at least before he's Blue Ribbon-ized. The first thing he does afterwards is trash the car with a sledgehammer while the other Blue Ribbons cheer him on and join in, a symbol of how he's changed.
  • Precision F-Strike: Steve unleashes one when he learns his parents signed him up for the Blue Ribbons. David Nutter says in the DVD Commentary it was a Take That! against all the Executive Meddling.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Laura smashes her whole face into the mirror after getting turned on by Steve.
  • Recycled In Space!: It's The Stepford Wives IN HIGH SCHOOL!
  • Running Gag: "Cue the power ballad".
  • Sacrificial Lion: Gavin, though he doesn't actually die. The theatrical ending actually reveals him to be the Sole Survivor of the Blue Ribbons.
  • Sequel Hook/The Stinger: The theatrical ending shows Gavin teaching in an Inner City School, having survived the confrontation at the end, and still controlled by the Blue Ribbon programming.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Biological instinct straining against Puritanical mind control is the most frequent cause of the Blue Ribbons' programming glitching out.
    Dr. Caldicott: Every time one of these kids gets a hard-on, they go out and try to beat something with it.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: The Blue Ribbons vs. the outcasts is a high school "preps vs. losers" version of this.
  • Slut-Shaming: After Andy Effkin breaks Mary Jo's neck for going down on him, he adds literal insult to injury by calling her a slut.
    • Chug lets Rachel know that he can and will do whatever he wants to her, because she has a reputation as a slut, and her word won't be believed against a Blue Ribbon's.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Steve and Rachel's escape from the mental hospital occurs while Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" blares in the background. The lyrics heard in that scene are kind of fitting though - "paranoia, paranoia / everybody's comin' to get me..."
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: One of the deleted scenes reveals that Steve's brother Allen was like this with his girlfriend Abby. The two of them killed themselves after their parents tried breaking them up, in a Shout-Out to the trope namer.
  • The Stoner: Gavin and UV.
  • Totally Radical: Rachel uses the word "razor" as analogous to "cool" or "sweet". Gavin and UV's speech is also peppered with stereotypical '90s slang.
  • This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Not explicitly stated, but Steve gets his friends and sister to the ferry, and then runs off to confront the Blue Ribbon kids. He only defeats them because of Mr Newberry, though.
  • Two Decades Behind: An in-universe example. The modern town of Cradle Bay contains a '50s-style Malt Shop, something that even the characters notice is anachronistic, and which proves to be a big tipoff that something is wrong with the Blue Ribbons. Chances are, by giving a wholesome '50s aesthetic to the teen hangout, it's possible that the people running Cradle Bay were trying to instil into the kids that they won't stand for that "modern" teen rebellion.
  • Uncanny Village: Cradle Bay appears to be an idyllic, picturesque community but hides a sinister secret.
  • Waxing Lyrical: As Mr. Newberry is about to drive the brainwashed students off a cliff, he yells out, "Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone!"
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To The Stepford Wives.