Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Shawn W. Hatsoy, Salma Hayek,
Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Christopher McDonald, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Usher
Raymond, Jon Stewart, Daniel von Bargen, Elijah Wood
1998, 104 Minutes, Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
When some very creepy things start happening around school, the kids at
Herrington High make a chilling discovery that confirms their worst
suspicions: their teachers really are from another planet! As
mind-controlling parasites rapidly begin spreading from the faculty to the
students' bodies, it's ultimately up to the few who are left -- an unlikely
collection of loners, leaders, nerds, and jocks -- to save the world from
Fun sci-fi horror - but not as much fun as one would expect,
especially when considering that The Faculty is directed by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado
and From Dusk Till Dawn) and written by Kevin Williamson (who wrote both Scream
movies). Like the Scream movies, it features a young hip cast who seems to have
actually read some science fiction - something that very few (if any!) characters in
sci-fi movies seem to have done . . .
Yup, that's right. Williamson tries to do the same for the alien invasion genre that he
did for the teen slasher horror movie in Scream I and II, that is to try and
imbue it with a post-modernist sensibility. Or translated: ever wondered why some
characters in sci-fi movies and television episodes are slow on grasping a situation?
Especially when you, the viewer, had already figured it out? Haven't they read any science
fiction or watched any episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits?
Not the case with the young cast of The Faculty. Like the audience members they are
quick on the uptake and quickly realize that their small town school (the teachers being
first) is being infiltrated and "possessed" by alien creatures and what should
be done about it. After all, they also saw Invasion of the Body
Snatchers and read Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters .
"Lacks the sheer energy and freshness of what made Scream so
unique . . ."
And John Carpenter's 1982 The
Thing, which - although never mentioned in the movie itself - was a huge influence,
especially when the small group of teenagers start to mistrust one another. After all, an
alien may possess any one of them . . .
What to make of The Faculty? On the one hand it laboriously follows the genre
conventions of said alien invasion and horror movies. (Translated: the plot is very
predictable, after all, we've already seen this.) On the other hand, it is acutely aware
of this and lets its audience in on the joke. It's no problem, really: after all it worked
for the Scream movies, but to be honest it doesn't work quite as well here.
Faculty lacks the sheer energy and freshness of what made Scream so unique.
Besides that, the characters' knowledge of said alien invasion stories serves as little
more than a plot device that allows them to catch up on the situation - something they
were bound to do sooner or later. Maybe Williamson just didn't know enough sci-fi movies
of this particular subgenre to pepper the movie with references to them.
However, The Faculty is still a reasonable fun
time at the cinema because it tends to be more character focused and driven than most
movies of this type.
Sure, all the high school teenager types are represented here: the
school wimp, the brilliant underachiever and proud of it, the football jock, the dressed
in various shades of black Alley Sheedy type outsider, etc. It feels like a Breakfast
Club reunion! But here they seem to be more imbued with more human and likeable
qualities than in most teenage movies.
Also, stories such as this must be
character-driven. Otherwise, how else would one notice when they are behaving weirdly and
thus "possessed" by aliens? For example, the teachers possessed by the aliens
actually seem to improve as people: the stressed out gym teacher positively mellows out
and the insecure English teacher becomes more self-confident! A nice touch and the sort of
thing that makes The Faculty worth a rental . . .
The Faculty is an example of what could be termed as "film geek
cinema". After all, it is filled with references to other movies and film geek types
can score extra points with their film geek pals for catching all the references and puns.
Included in The Faculty's cast is Robert Patrick as the gym teacher. He is of
course best known to audiences as the T-1000 liquid man in Terminator
II, a role that he also sent up in Wayne's World.
Sexy Salma Hayek, cast as the
deliciously-named Santanico Pandemonium in director Rodriguez's previous film (From
Dusk Till Dawn) is decidedly unsexy and underutilized as the hypochondriac school
nurse. Harry Knowles who runs the enormously popular Ain't It Cool News
website can also be seen lurking around in the teacher's lounge - although I
can't remember him uttering a single line of dialogue. By the way, he's the
big, bearded red-haired dude . . .