One of my pet peeves, as someone who has watched her share of movies about disturbed men driven by madness to kill, is that serial killers are often presented as being far more interesting than they actually are. Whereas the typical serial killer is someone who has never been able to maintain a relationship and who can’t hold down a job and who, in many cases, barely even graduated high school, movie serial killers always tend to be portrayed as being handsome, charming, witty, and diabolically clever. Blame it on Ted Bundy. Blame it on the popularity of Hannibal Lecter. Blame it on the film industry’s embrace of clichés. Blame it on whoever. or whatever It’s annoying and it encourages the tendency of the media to focus more on the killers than on their victims.
One good thing that you can say about the 1990 film The Disturbance is that it’s killer is no winner. Clay Moyer (Timothy Greeson) is a schizophrenic who has just been released from a mental hospital and seems to be destined to soon return. He’s someone who is haunted by hallucinations and violent fantasies. At the same time, he’s also learned how to project enough superficial charm that he can actually interact with people. When he meets Susan (Lisa Geoffrion) on the beach, he’s able to get a date and later, he’s even able to get a relationship. But, as the film graphically shows, even when he’s making love to Susan, he’s fantasizing about killing her. Even during the best moments of their relationship, he’s fantasizing about doing terrible things to the neighbor. Because he’s extremely possessive while obviously hiding a huge part of his life from her, Susan eventually starts to pull away from him. When he gets too pushy in his efforts to keep her around, she breaks it off. Since the relationship was the only positive thing that Clay had in his life, he sinks further into madness and he eventually does some very bad things. But, seeing as how Clay was having violent fantasies even while he was still dating Susan, it’s totally probable that his collapse was predestined. If he hadn’t been triggered by the end of the relationship, he would have been triggered by something else. There’s no hope for Clay, who was pretty much doomed from the minute he was born.
The budget of this Florida-shot indie is low and it’s obvious that most of the actors weren’t professionals. And yet, the fact that the actors are occasionally stiff and awkward actually adds to the film’s authenticity. If the film had been too slick, it wouldn’t have been as effective. It would have felt like another overproduced Hollywood serial killer film. Instead, The Disturbance feels like a journey into the mind of someone who actually is a ticking time bomb, reaching the end of his countdown. It’s not a fun journey but then again, it shouldn’t be fun. The mind of a sexual sadist is not going to be a pleasant place to visit.
The film works largely due to the lead performance of Timothy Greeson, who plays Clay as someone who desperately wants to be normal but who is very much aware that he never will be. He’s a prisoner to his fantasies and, as much as he tries, he knows that he’s never going to escape his demons. As an actor, Greeson is appealing enough that you can buy that Susan might go on a date with him while he also believably portrays the instability that leads to her dumping him.
It’s a well-done film, though a bit too disturbing to really be an entertaining viewing experience. (On a personal level, there were several scenes involving a cat that I simply could not handle.) I appreciated the film’s integrity far more than I enjoyed actually watching it but at least the movie refused to idealize its killer.