The Faculty (1998)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Shawn Hatosy, Jordanna Brewster, Laura Harris, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Jon Stewart, Salma Hayek, Christopher McDonald, Usher Raymond, Susan Willis, Daniel von Bargen, Louis Black, Megan Gallagher, Joe Hatton, Harry Knowles, Duane Martin, Jason D. May, Katherine Willis, Summer Phoenix.
1998 101 minutes
Rated: (for violence, gore, profanity, nudity, and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 27, 1998.
"The Faculty," the heavily-hyped and advertised sci-fi/horror film that has teamed up director Robert Rodriguez (1995's "Desperado" and 1996's "From Dusk Till Dawn") and screenwriter Kevin Williamson (1996's "Scream" and 1997's "Scream 2"), is being called a cross between "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Breakfast Club," and I don't think I could describe it any better than that.
The film sets up the six central teenage characters who do not seem to have much in common, and then the science-fiction aspect is added, involving the fear that the faculty at Herrington High School are actually aliens who are quickly transforming everyone in the town. The six characters, as in "The Breakfast Club," can be easily labeled as a stereotype, but as they are developed, they become far more complex: Casey (Elijah Wood), the much picked upon nerd; Stokely (Clea DuVall), a goth outcast who hides behind the false facade of being a lesbian so everyone will avoid her; Zeke (Josh Hartnett), a drug dealer who turns out to be a science whiz; Stan (Shawn Hatosy), the star football quarterback who is considering quitting the team to concentrate more on academics; Delilah (Jordanna Brewster), the popular cheerleader and newspaper journalist; and Marybeth (Laura Harris), the sweet 'n southern new girl in town. Although the characters are only slightly connected (i.e. Casey is Delilah's photojournalist assistant; Marybeth tries to become buddies with Stokely, since they both don't have friends, etc.), when they all begin to suspect the teachers due to some grotesque and strange occurrences, the only people they can count on for help is each other, even though they aren't really even sure if they can trust one another.
"The Faculty" is another smart and pop-culturally hip film from Williamson, although it does not equal up to his best film, the original "Scream," and Rodriguez, whose "From Dusk Till Dawn" is still one of the more original genre films of the 90's. Williamson and Rodriguez are so assured at their professions, respectively, that the idea of teaming up together is pretty much a no-brainer. The plotline of "The Faculty," involving aliens taking over other people's bodies, has been done quite a lot before, from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," to "The Puppet Masters," to "Invaders from Mars," so one of the obstacles that Williamson and Rodriguez had to overcome was to somehow make the idea seem fresh, and by setting the goings-on at a high school and having the protagonists be a group of teens, they were mostly successful. Surely, the conventions of the story are still the same, and the climax was inevitable, but there were a few surprises along the way, including the question of who were the aliens, and who weren't. The epilogue was also a refreshing change-of-pace as it did not set up a sequel but ended on a note that probably could not have been any better.
The performances in "The Faculty" were a treat throughout, since there were so many recognizable actors in roles that were the polar opposite of what they usually do. One exception were the teens, who, aside from Elijah Wood, are not very well-known, but they all aquit themselves nicely, particularly Wood (the seasoned pro), Clea DuVall, and Jordanna Brewster. As members of the faculty, Robert Patrick ("T2: Judgement Day") was creepy as the gym coach; Piper Laurie was amusing and threatening as the drama teacher; Bebe Neuwirth actually was somehow able to look like an alien; and Salma Hayek, as the school nurse with a bad case of the cold, was very funny in a small role. The standout, in my opinion, of the whole cast was Famke Janssen who turns in an oddly touching performance as the shy and meek english teacher who, after turning into an alien, becomes the sex bombshell. If there was any problem I had with the faculty, it was that some of them were given no real payoff in the climactic sequence. Since the teenagers realize that in order to save everyone they must kill the "Queen" alien, many of the faculty members disappear. It might have been more fun if they had to face every one of the teachers, although the finale is still pretty impressive, and includes some showstopping creature effects, especially for a relatively low 15-million-dollar budget.
Although not one of the best horror or science-fiction films I have seen, "The Faculty" is still an exciting and worthy film that Dimension Films was smart to release around the Holiday Season when this type of genre offering is usually not released. While the story is as old as the hills, it is also, in a way, timeless, because everyone, I think, has suspected at one time or another that a certain person simply did not act right, as if they really weren't human. And by putting this idea in the setting of a small-town high school, it perfectly contrasts with the alienation that most teenagers usually go through when relating to adults and other peers.
+ Note: The ad and poster campaign for this film is hugely misleading, as it features R & B artist Usher Raymond as one of the main characters. In actuality, he only has a small role as one of Stan's buddies who becomes quarterback after Stan resigns from the team. If I were one of the heads from Dimension, I would change this advertising at once, since it is unnecessary and rather deceiving.
©1998 by Dustin Putman