The Faculty (1998)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)


Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

The Faculty

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

The Faculty
One of the many teen actors
reacts to something that didn't actually
make it into the film.
Robert Rodriguez is just about the coolest director working in Hollywood today. We love his inspired fusion of HK action riffs with Latino macho vibes, by way of Looney Toons. We also thank our lucky stars that a guy who is so good at the visual end of film making also knows a good story and good acting from a hole in the ground.

The Faculty is a minor film for Rodriguez, who is at present in a work for hire mode. This is not the first time he's ever directed someone else's script, but it is the first time he's made a movie in which no one speaks Spanish. This is probably because The Faculty is written by the master of shallow teenage angst-horror, Scream writer Kevin Williamson. We imagine that what drew Rodriguez to this script in particular is that it is an extended homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a film to which Rodriguez obviously has sentimental attachments. (Watch Road Racers to see what we mean.)

As with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Faculty presents us with a race of aliens who can possess people in an undetectable manner. In the case of The Faculty, the people taken over are the faculty (duh!) of a high school in Ohio. And just as in Invasion, only a small group of people ever figure out what is really going on.

The Faculty
Robert Patrick, America's leading
portrayer of non-people says
"Now let's have some fun!"
a line not in the film.
The group of kids who take it upon themselves to beat back the alien onslaught is made up of certain high school stereotypes, including the nerd (Casey, played by Elijah Wood), the head cheerleader (Delilah, played by Jordana Brewster), the football star (Stan, played by Shawn Wayne Hatosy), the Daria-esque intellectual chick (Stokely, played by Clea DuVall), the new girl in town (Marybeth, played by Laura Harris), and the under-achieving bad seed (Zeke, played by Josh Hartnett). Part of the fun of The Faculty is the way it parodies these high school cliques. It likens the loyalty to groups in high school to the mindless obedience one would expect from the body-snatched. For instance, Delilah doesn't want her boyfriend Stan to quit the football team because she's the head cheerleader, and the head cheerleader has to date the football captain, right?

Once the body-snatching of the faculty begins, we discover that these aliens don't turn people into cold, heartless automatons like Newt Gingrich. Instead, the possessed have their inhibitions largely removed, making their behavior erratic and bizarre, like Newt Gingrich. And finally, the body snatched must drink lots of water, which, were it not for the aquatic aliens sucking up the water on the inside, would lead them to ultimately become puffy and bloated, like Newt Gingrich.

The Faculty
"Okay, he can bend his pinky,
he's not an Invader."
This was also not in the film.
The cast is very quirky, and the acting is fun. This is the second horror film we've seen with Josh Harnett (Halloween: H20) in, and we're convinced that he is a direct blood relation to Microsoft founder Bill Gates. What other explanation can there be for his total inability to get an attractive haircut? Elijah Wood overplays his role, but no one in this film is expected to be subtle. Many of the supporting actors are also familiar faces. As with all Rodriguez films, Salma Hayek shows up, even if her part is lamentably small. Robert Patrick (a.k.a. T-1000 from Terminator 2) continues to prove that he can play almost any character, provided that that character is anything but human. In this case, a gym teacher. (Okay, he's a gym teacher possessed by an alien, but it doesn't seem to make much difference.)

Famke Janssen does the two modes of Sandra Bullock (nerdy girl-next-door and wanton vamp, in that order) in her role as a literature teacher, and Jon Stewart makes a great appearance as the science teacher with a credit-cookie cameo. Bebe Nuewirth and Piper Laurie are also faculty members, but the most important addition to the cast is Internet fanboy extraordinaire Harry Knowles. Knowles, for those of you without a web browser, made himself famous by running a popular movie gossip site. Now he and some members of his family are actually in a movie. We would complain that he'd sold out, if we weren't so firmly convinced we'd do the same thing in his place. Suffice it to say, Knowles slobbers over Salma Hayek for a few screen seconds, delivers one line, and departs the set with his SAG card.

The Faculty
The faculty, as not seen in The Faculty.
Despite the amusing cast, the plot here is old hat: the aliens are here to take over the human race one by one. In turn, each high-schooler is turned into a mindless automaton, devoid of free will or the capability for independent thought or moral judgment. Thus, they bypass the need for fast food jobs and head straight for law school. It is up to our spunky Scooby gang to locate "the queen" and destroy her, thus neatly wrapping up the film. Why is there always just one queen, whose death will easily foil the entire invasion? Wouldn't it be more realistic (and scarier) if they had to hunt down all of the aliens?

Alas, The Faculty isn't here to remedy any of the standard sci-fi movie complaints, merely to comment on them. Our adolescent heroes spend as much time commenting on their stereotypical social roles ("The head cheerleader has to date the star quarterback") as they do fighting aliens, which makes for some great one-liners, but the film never does much more analysis than that. The same goes for the postmodern aspect of the film, in that the characters in the film are aware of films and books like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Puppet Masters. While sort of amusing, the fact that the characters know of such films doesn't make this film much better, or give us any insight into the popularity of such themes. Williamson may have had a hit with the first two Scream movies, but the formula doesn't work quite as well if you don't back it up with some thought. The little gems that made Scream so worthwhile ("Life is like a movie. You just can't pick your genre.") are conspicuous by their absence here in The Faculty.

Perhaps most tellingly, Rodriguez seems impatient to get the necessary set-up out of the way early so he can get to the running and the chasing and the screaming at which he excels. Unfortunately, the rest of the film other than the running and the chasing and the screaming falls a little flat. Perhaps if the rest of the script were of the quality of, say, From Dusk Till Dawn, we might have had more enthusiastic.

Own it!

Review date: 01/12/1999

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We got our screen captures for this film from the TV trailer, which seems to be composed entirely of clips which were excised from the movie itself. Either there was some miscommunication or the folks at Dimension have an odd sense of humor. Go back!