The Faculty Review

by Joe Barlow (jbarlow AT earthling DOT net)
January 7th, 1999

    A movie review by Joe Barlow
    (c) Copyright 1999

STARRING: Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Shawn Hatosy, Jordana Brewster
DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez
WRITER: Kevin Williamson
YEAR: 1998
SEEN AT: Park Place 16, Morrisville NC

    RATING: ** (out of a possible ****)

It's not uncommon for teenagers to think all adults are from outer space. It's much less common, however, for them to be correct in that assumption.

"The Faculty," the new horror-thriller from director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, From Dusk Til Dawn) and screenwriter Kevin Williamson (The "Scream" movies), is an interesting experiment. A unique (but not entirely successful) blend of gore, suspense and comedy, the film plays like a high-speed collision between "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The movie tells the tale of a mysterious alien force which is taking over the inhabitants of our lovely but ever helpless planet, one person at a time. The aliens take over the minds of humans by inserting a slug-like creature into the victim's ear (opening scene of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" anyone?). But don't worry: six plucky teenagers are on the case, so it'll all turn out okay in the end.
These astute young heroes, a varied lot that includes the geeky Casey (Elijah Wood), walking crack-house Zeke (Hartnett), spooky goth-gal Stokely (Clea DuVall), school football legend Stan (Shawn Hatosy), the incredibly sweet but none-too-bright Marybeth (Laura Harris), and sexy head cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), are the first to notice that something strange is happening. The notoriously ill-tempered Coach Willis (Robert Patrick, who you'll remember as the evil terminator from "T2") is suddenly full of smiles and gentleness. The mousy school principal (Bebe Neuwirth) starts dressing and acting like a sex goddess. And the entire faculty chugs enough water each day to float an ark. Naturally, the only explanation must be that aliens are taking over the world.

You all know I have a soft spot for ridiculously bad horror films, as my review of "Halloween: H20" no doubt revealed. It's a good thing, too, because "The Faculty" is a ridiculously bad film. As with "From Dusk Til Dawn," Robert Rodriguez seems totally unsure what kind of story he's supposed to be telling: a comedy? Action? Suspense? A dark thriller? Following the "more is better" principle, he seems determined to throw all of the above into his movie. The result is a smorgasbord of different cinematic techniques, all of which are competently done, yet somehow don't taste particularly good when mushed up together. C'mon, Robert, I've seen "El Mariachi." You, of all people, should know that less can be more.

If Rodriguez is at fault, however, it's only for being too ambitious, and trying harder than the material really warrants. Kevin Williamson's screenplay makes no such mistake; in fact, it's such a jumble that at times it seems to be on vacation. Lacking the wit that made the two "Scream" films such commercial (and critical) successes, Williamson here seems to be playing it a little too safe. His dialogue lacks the fire and biting satire of his previous work. Rather than pushing the boundaries of horror, this screenplay seems firmly rooted in the very situations he mocked so brilliantly in "Scream" and its excellent sequel.

    This isn't to say that "The Faculty" is without merit, provided you know what to expect. The special effects are adequate (though not spectacular), the acting isn't bad, and the film's pacing is excellent, a testimony to Rodriguez's directing/editing style. I actually had more fun at this film than my review may lead you to believe. You might, too, as long as you're not expecting "Citizen Kane." Or "Scream," for that matter.

(If you're a diehard horror fan, add one star to the rating I gave the film.)

******************************************************************** Copyright (c)1999 by Joe Barlow. This review may not be reproduced without the written consent of the author.

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