The Faculty Review

by Scott Renshaw (renshaw AT inconnect DOT com)
December 25th, 1998

Starring: Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Shawn Hatosy, Jordana Brewster, Robert Patrick, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Jon Stewart.
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson.
Producer: Elizabeth Avellan.
Director: Robert Rodriguez.
MPAA Rating: R (violence, profanity, drug use, brief nudity) Running Time: 102 minutes.
Reviewed by Scott Renshaw.

    There's something very strange going on at Ohio's Herrington High in THE FACULTY. It's something only six students -- sensitive drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett), tormented geek Casey (Elijah Wood), black-clad loner Stokely (Clea DuVall), cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), quarterback Stan (Shawn Hatosy) and sweet new girl in school Marybeth (Laura Harris) -- seem to recognize. It starts in the faculty, including the football coach (Robert Patrick) and the principal (Bebe Neuwirth), then slowly spreads to their classmates. Herrington High has been overtaken by... a world-shaking case of deja vu.

    It's not just that another film from earlier this year, DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, already suggested a sinister conspiracy to turn high school students into obedient robots. Deconstructionist screen scribe Kevin Williamson managed a tightrope act across the fine line between homage and outright theft in SCREAM and SCREAM 2. In THE FACULTY, he stomps that fine line into a fine paste. The Tommy Hilfiger-bedecked sextet of protagonists shows the meticulous cross-sectioning of THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Their test of each other's humanity is a crib from John Carpenter's THE THING. Their last stand locked away from the Menace Out There recalls NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, ALIENS, and any number of other science fiction thrillers. It's a monster movie that could not exist without the existence of other -- and much better -- movies.

    Of course, some will argue that such is entirely the point of any Williamson project, that he shows off the conventions of genre films so he can revitalize them. The problem is that there is nothing remotely revitalizing about THE FACULTY. Sure, it's a movie movie, but its quotes are as witlessly regurgitated as in any number of recent Leslie Nielsen projects. Instead of having something clever to say about cliches, it simply recycles them, tossing in the occasional reference to "The Puppet Masters" or ALIEN's Ripley as though it suddenly makes all the trite characterizations and profanely insult-filled dialogue tolerable. Even Elijah Wood's wide-eyed genuineness and some pseudo-analysis of teenage desire for conformity can't rescue THE FACULTY from feeling exactly like the "attractive teens in jeopardy" tales it supposedly derides.

    If THE FACULTY proves anything, it's how much Williamson needs Wes Craven. Both SCREAM films featured chilling sequences which could stand with the best the genre had to offer; they showed what chould be great about horror films even as they showed what could be awful about them. Robert Rodriguez -- who, if nothing else, has always shown that he has an electrifying sense of cinematic pacing -- seemingly has no idea what to do with this material. THE FACULTY drifts sluggishly from character to character as though they actually mattered, and the few action sequences are designed to show off alien effects. Every opportunity for genuine creativity is turned into yet another self-satisfied commentary on how every science-fiction story is really a rip-off of some other science-fiction story.

    There are a couple of amusing moments in THE FACULTY -- a football game in which the Herrington team "infects" the opposition during dogpile tackles, for instance -- but even most of those are taken from other films. Williamson's name is supposed to make this a knowing satire of alien takeover films like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, but there was more inventive humor in a piece of cheese like 1985's killer yogurt film THE STUFF. I kept waiting for either fun or fear, and all I got was a jokey cameo by Internet gossip guru Harry "Ain't-It-Cool" Knowles. THE FACULTY merely adds to the list of lame science fiction films for someone else to satirize...and maybe even get it right next time.

    On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 alien-ated teens: 3.

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