The Faculty Review

by Bill Chambers (h20 AT hotmail DOT com)
January 13th, 1999

THE FACULTY ** (out of four)
-a review by Bill Chambers ( [email protected] )

[For more purple prose, visit Film Freak Central - )

starring Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Jordana Brewster screenplay by Kevin Williamson
directed by Robert Rodriguez

Before Kevin Williamson came along, could anyone other than film geeks/freaks name a living, working screenwriter? His name on a movie’s credits (sometimes before the title) is a signal to teenagers that they’re in for some post-Gen X irony—his screenplays assume everyone born after 1980 grew up in a video store. (Often, as he’s cribbing a plot, he’ll refer to the source—the Breakfast Club episode of "Dawson’s Creek", for example.) Williamson is, in some circles, even hipper than Quentin Tarantino is.

T2’s Robert Patrick stars as a pent-up high school football coach whose body is taken over by a parasitic alien; he proceeds to contaminate virtually the entire faculty—most amusingly, Ain’t-It-Cool-News webmaster Harry Knowles (!) in his screen debut as the Teacher Most In Need of a Treadmill. A group of rambunctious whippersnappers uncover this secret early on. Together, they search for places to hide and a defense against their newfound enemies.
Said group of archetypal—make that stereotypical—teen heroes are as follows: Delilah (Brewster), the head cheerleader and school beauty; Stan (Shawn Hatosy), ex-captain of the football team and ex-boyfriend of Delilah—a jock with a yearning for learning; Casey (Wood), the underappreciated school nerd; Marybeth (Laura Harris), the naive new girl in school; Zeke (Hartnett), the rebel without a comb, an underachieving student who sells homemade drugs out of the trunk of his car; and Stokeley (DuVall—be still my beating heart), the weirdo gothic brainer who pretends she’s a lesbian so guys will leave her alone. Did I just describe the cast of The Breakfast Club? Here, Williamson takes it a step further, as the characters look to the text of Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers for a solution to their dilemma.

The real problem is that Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn) is such an efficient director (three staff members are snatched within the first five minutes of the film) that (the nonetheless enjoyable) The Faculty rarely has a chance to breathe. Relationships are pared down to their essentials; oftentimes, two characters are conversing (and snooping together) who were not friends a scene before. Marybeth gravitates to Stokeley immediately—why? Unlike The Breakfast Club (or any of the Body Snatchers films, for that matter), there is little reason all these characters would unite. Also, as in most movies of this type, it seems a dartboard was used to select who will become an alien and who won’t. (Aside, some entries for Roger Ebert’s Movie Glossary: when testing a group of people to see which person is harbouring a secret alien identity, the last one tested will turn out to be the monster; in an attempt to body snatch the male protagonist, a female villain will appear totally nude before him and invite him closer.)

There is mild subtext to Williamson’s screenplay (which was polished off by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel)—The Faculty at time plays like an effects-laden "Just Say No!" commercial. Which is a great message, except that drugs defeat these aliens—perhaps Rodriguez and co. are commenting on the merits of detox? The beauty of all three Body Snatchers movies is how emblematic of their respective periods they are (1956: McCarthyism; 1978: the Me Generation; 1993: the military state); in 1999, there is more to say about the threat of widespread mind control than what’s laid out here. Today’s teenagers and twentysomething folks (myself included) have been spoonfed so much pop culture—we’re all talking like the characters on "Friends"—that I doubt they’d notice if our teachers and parents lost their identities, too.

    -January, 1999

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