The following has been prompted by fan request. One does not simply mention The Faculty, it seems. It must be discussed in all its glory! So whatever happens next, just know that you brought it on yourselves.
1998 saw the release of two movies featuring students taking on a bizarre force from within their school. Both films also contained some usage of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” because of course they did. One of these movies was Disturbing Behavior, which is another story for another day. And the other movie? Uh…The Faculty. Did you not read the little opening text up top? I clearly stated what film we’re going to delve into. Perhaps you’ll pay better attention as we dissect it’s mysteries and wonders.
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The Faculty is your standard The Body Snatchers story as invisioned by Kevin Williamson and Robert Rodriguez before either completely wore out their welcome. In it, a parasitic alien species has come to Earth to take over (as alien species are wont to do) and their first stop is a small town high school for whatever reason. They quickly manage to infect the titular school faculty and soon begin infecting the students under the guise of ear inspections. For you see, the aliens take over their new hosts by entering the body Ceti eel style. (Or like the Yeerks for all you Animorphs fans still out there somewhere). Thus it is up to Generation X’s answer to the Breakfast Club to take down the invasion before it’s too late.
******GOOD WORK QPSRF! BACK IN YOUR POKÉBALL!******
So what does The Faculty have going for it, if anything? Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt that it takes the Body Snatchers template. There’s a reason that particular tale has been adapted into film four times since its inception. The idea of an outside force corrupting your friends and neighbors is timeless and each version of Jack Finney’s original story proves this by evoking counterpart threats from the real world (intentionally or otherwise, as the case may be).
Riffs on that story, like The Faculty, usually do the same. While the actual physical threat in this case is a band of otherworldy parasites, they represent a classic teenage fear: being molded into a comformist drone by authority figures.
But is it any good? Well…kinda? It’s hard to put down quite what makes The Faculty work and I’m not afraid to admit to feeling that bittersweet pang of nostalgia when I caught this the other day. It’s certainly not a bad film, but it’s plagued by being another of Williamson’s post-Scream hip teen horror flicks. You could of course do worse, like watching the astoundingly stupid I Know What You Did Last Summer series, and the relatively able cast certainly helps matters.
Speaking of the cast, I described actor Shawn Hatosy in a previous blog (which I should have mentioned in this blog for Ben Foster related shenanigans) as “that guy nobody remembers from The Faculty.” Harsh? Perhaps. But I am not alone in forgetting him, dear readers. It’s debatable whether or not the filmmakers even remembered him, because the ad men sure didn’t. Just look at this poster:
No Hatosy to be found, but I do see me some Usher! I always forget that Mr. Raymond has been around for what seems like an eternity. Probably because I don’t really go out of my way to think about Usher. In fact, this is the most I’ve ever really considered him. So, kudos on mattering to me today, good sir.
So of course, being in one of his various relevant phases, Usher was going to be a bigger draw than an unknown actor. It makes sense. But you can’t help but feel somewhat bad for a guy getting his first real starring role and being replaced by someone with a much smaller part in the marketing. Well, the print marketing anyway.* He’s totally in this awesomely ’90s Tommy Hilfiger commercial:
Did you seem him? It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo?” with forgotten actors! You might also have noticed a girl amongst the crowd who doesn’t appear in the movie. It’s Kidada Jones, older sister of Rashida! Apparently her character, Venus, was completely cut from the film. At least she probably got some Tommy jeans out of the deal.
But enough of people who aren’t in the movie! What about those who are? Well, the faculty itself is made up of a great assortment of actors including Carrie’s crazy-ass mom, the T-1000, Jean Grey, Santanico Pandemonium, and…Harry Knowles. Yes, they pulled out all the stops on this one.
Also on hand is Jon Stewart in that weird transition period between MTV and The Daily Show, doing a beta test on that goatee he put to work earlier this year.
As for the kids we’ve got our Mr. Hatosy alongside Flipper star Elijah Wood, WWII hero Josh Hartnett, go-to movie lesbian Clea Duvall, and eye candy in the form of Jordana Brewster and Laura Harris. What works here is the chemistry between our leads. It’s strained, but in the right way. They don’t all hang out together, but with the exception of Harris’ “new kid in town” character, they’re at least pretty aware of eachother.
I mentioned earlier that what makes this type of story so good is the inability to trust one another. The paranoia that seeps in when anybody could be turned foe at any time. By forcing these unlikely allies together, their relationship is already a bit strained. Frodo’s character is assaulted by the jocks every day, so why should he trust them? Especially now? By not making these kids all BFFs we’re more likely to see them wary of eachother, suspicious at every turn. While maybe not as heartbreaking as seeing a close friend get turned, it keeps the tension up, and it always sucks to lose a compatriot fighting off secret alien invasions. I would know. I’ve lost three. You’re welcome, by the way.
So what else works in The Faculty? The effects are good, for the most part, but nothing to really write home about. I do like that they keep the film at the school as much as possible, particularly for the finale which has a great usuage of collapsable gym bleachers, something that always freaked me out as a kid. Williamson’s script also manages to keep you guessing as to who might be turned/taken out next, but he loses a few points for a relatively low bodycount. Not that it needed to be particularly high, but he actually goes so far as to bring people back who suffered fairly major injuries. It’s a bit of a cop out.
I would be remiss if I closed out this blog without mentioning the secret weapon used to combat the aliens, though. Hartnett’s character, Zeke (he’s a rebel, but he’s got a heart of gold. And a sweet GTO), is a drug dealer. His main product? Bic pens full of Scat – a snortable powder. As it turns out, it’s essentially just ground-up caffeine pills, but it’s a perfect tool against the aliens due to caffeines diuretic properties. You see, the parasites need constant supplies of water, and unlike M Night’s e.t.’s, these guys actually looked at the Earth before landing and saw that the place was full of it.
There has to be something to the fact that a bunch of teens turned their caffeine addiction into a weapon, but I’m not quite finding it. All I know is that this movie features Elijah Wood delivering one of the best caffeine freakouts since Elizabeth Berkley got so excited and so scared back on Saved by the Bell.
So is The Faculty a success? I suppose the only way to know if something stands the test of time is if people write slash fiction about it. Is there any out there about The Faculty? Yes. Yes there is. Chalk this one up for the win category.
*I’m aware that if you look hard enough you can find stuff with him on it, but go with me here. Besides, he’s still upstaged by Usher in all of them.