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Movie Review: The Faculty (1998)
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Clea DuVall, Shawn Hotosy, Jordana Brewster, Robert Patrick, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Laura Harris, Usher Raymond, Jon Stewart, Piper Laurie, Christopher McDonald, Daniel Von Bargen
In some Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type science fiction thrillers, if not all of them, the humans have to undergo a test to prove that they're still human. Perhaps the most memorable example is the 1982 John Carpenter film The Thing, where the humans had to undergo a blood test. A character would poke a hot needle at their blood samples, and if the blood did not react, then they were human. It was a superbly crafted scene, and led to one of the most terrifying moments in the film.
In the 1998 film The Faculty, on the other hand, the humans have to snort crushed caffeine pills up their noses to prove their humanity. The aliens, you see, are "sea dwelling organisms." They require excessive amounts of water to survive, and since caffeine is a diuretic, it should dry the aliens out and kill them. So we get an extended scene where a group of high school kids sit around a science lab snorting drugs, getting high, and laughing like hyenas. This results in one of the funniest scenes in the film.
The Faculty is an enormously entertaining B-movie: smart, unpretentious, and funny as hell. The screenplay was written by Kevin Williamson, the same man who wrote Scream, and he brings the same self-deprecating charm that he brought to that film. Like the kids in Scream, the high school kids in The Faculty know they're in an Invasion of the Body Snathers like scenario, and have to turn to the works of Robert A. Heinlein and Jack Finney to stage their next move. It's the sort of situation where the more you know about alien invasion fiction, or know someone who knows it, the better your chances are of surviving. So, for all you high school students reading this, you might want to think twice before teasing the geeky science fiction lover at your school. You never know. With their knowledge, they might one day save your life.
The plot is pretty straight forward: Aliens take over a small Ohio town, starting with the faculty at the local high school. Casey (Elijah Wood), the "geeky Stephen King kid" of Herrington High, is the first to catch on to the alien invasion after discovering a specimen on the school's football field. His warnings fall on deaf ears to all but a select few -- including ugly duckling Stokely (Clea DuVall, who's really quite attractive) and school jock Stan (Shawn Hotosy) -- although even they are skeptical at first. "Why Ohio?" Stan asks. Casey's logic is really quite sound: "If you were going to take over the world, would you blow up the White House Independence Day style, or would you sneak in through the back door?"
There really isn't much more to the plot than that. The kids discover that the school's senior drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett) holds the one weapon that can defeat the aliens, a drug he calls Scat, which is basically crushed caffeine pills "and some other house hold appliances." Stokely, who's well versed in the works of Heinlein and Finney, theorizes that if they are able to find the queen alien and kill her, then those who have been take over will return to normal again. This leads to a wildly entertaining climax, where the kids have to face off against the Queen Bee at the school on a dark and stormy night.
We see a lot of the creature in the end, and some of the criticisms the movie has garnered are that the special-effects are really cheesy. Compared to movies like The Thing and Independence Day, I suppose the special-effects are inferior. Of course, both of those films were much more ambitious productions, and required much more ambitious special-effects. In contrast, The Faculty is a goofy B-movie, and proud to be one. Realistic creature effects would have been all wrong for a film like this. In other words, the special-effects may be "cheesy," but they are also just right for a movie like The Faculty.
The cast is also very well chosen. The main kids are, I'll admit, stereotypes, but the cast is so likable that we find ourselves rooting for them nevertheless. Josh Hartnett is especially charming as Zeke, the druggie who is smarter than you'd expect. Elijah Wood is spot-on as Casey, who starts off as a shy outcast before morphing into an alien slaying badass in the end. DuVall is a riot as Stokely, who is given some of the film's best lines, especially when she dishes out insults against her arch nemesis Delilah (Jordana Brewster, very good), head cheerleader and a grade-A bee-yatch. Hotosy is solid as Stan, the school jock who wants to quit sports and focus more on his academics, and Laura Harris has a sweet presence as Marybeth Louise Hutchinson, the newcomer from Atlanta.
Better still are the big named stars hand picked to play the faculty. I mean, who better to play an irate football coach than Robert Patrick, who constantly screams insults at his players as though he were R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket? Who better to play a painfully shy English Literature teacher, with a "Kill your Television" sign taped to her blackboard, than Famke Janssen, who was then recently seen as the sadistic Bond villainess Xena Onatop in Goldeneye? Daniel Von Bargen is given the least amount of screen time as Social Studies teacher Mr. Tate, but even he has a terrific moment when Stan corrects him during one of his lectures. "Excuse me, Mr. Tate. We did chapter four last week. We're on chapter five now." Mr. Tate's response: "Whatever."
Director Robert Rodriguez brings a lot of energy to the proceedings, and makes excellent use of the high school locations. There is one gruesomely effective scene in the boy's shower room involving Stan and an alien infected teacher that stands out. There is some gore in The Faculty, but it isn't as extreme as the last two Kevin Williamson penned horror shows, Scream and Scream 2. The gore is so goofy, in spots, that it's almost impossible to be offended by it. Take the scene where one teacher loses her head in a car crash. We see the head crawl back to its body, and the results are nothing if not hilarious. Because gore is kept at a minimum, I'd argue that The Faculty is even more entertaining than the Scream movies. It's lighter and more fun.
Perhaps the funniest aspect about the movie is its initial theatrical release date. For a movie like this, you'd expect a summer release or, at the very least, a day in October, but no. The Faculty was actually released in theaters on Christmas day back in 1998. Because nothing says Merry Christmas better than a movie about drugged out high schoolers battling an army of gruesome alien creatures.
*** ½ (out of ****)
Classic Trailer! :D
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