Retro Film Review: The Faculty (1998)

in #filmlast month

(source:tmdb.org)

In 1996 Scream showed that a single film could function both as a genuine genre piece and as a parody of the genre. That film also brought something of a renaissance for teenage slasher horror films. Many believed that its screenwriter Kevin Williamson could repeat the same accomplishment with his next project. Because of such high expectations The Faculty, 1998 science fiction thriller directed by Robert Rodriguez, was widely perceived as a disappointment.

The plot is set in Harrington High, typical school in one of Ohio's middle-class neighbourhoods. There are six students who, for whole variety of reasons, don't seem to fit into the school's mainstream. Delilah Profitt (played by Jordana Brewster) is a school paper reporter who tries to be as obnoxious to other people as possible. Her boyfriend Stan Rosado (played by Shawn Hatosy) is a sports jock who recently decided to earn his grades through studying. Zeke Tyler (played by Josh Hartnett) repeated a school year only to have an extra opportunity to sell home-made mind-altering drugs to fellow students. Stokely Mitchell (played by Clea DuVall) is a introverted loner rumoured to be lesbian. Marybeth Louise Hutchinson (played by Laura Harris) has recently arrived from South and desperately tries to find new friends. Casey Connor (played by Elijah Wood) is a computer geek who accidentally discovers peculiar-looking organism at the school. Casey's discovery coincides with the sudden and unexplained behaviour change among many teachers. All that is followed by the series of violent incidents and six students, come to the terrifying conclusion - the teachers at the school are being taken over by mind-controlling alien organisms. Knowing that they can't rely on sceptic authorities, six youths decide to join their resources and try to deal with the problem themselves.

The shortest description of The Faculty is "a modern-day version/parody of Invasion of Body Snatchers set in high school". This is the short, but not entirely accurate description. Kevin Williamson took basic concept from 1956 science-fiction classic, but the real source of inspiration came from the 1980s films about American adolescents trying to cope with the challenges of high school. Concept of mind-controlling parasite aliens is just a way for Williamson to show how rebellious and individualistic youths must always face the world of adulthood and conformism. Williamson does it by introducing the set of characters that firmly belong to 1980s teen movie cliches; by the end of the film each of those characters would go through serious transformation.

The Faculty is good as a parable, but somewhat lacking as a genre film. Director Robert Rodriguez makes few innovative and impressive action scenes, but, near the end of the film his talent is replaced by few cheesy and over-the-top special effects. Thankfully, audience probably wouldn't care much for those strictly technical imperfections. Williamson's script paid much more attention to characters - his protagonist might look cliched, but they are portrayed as real human beings and the audience would care about what happens to them. This is the lesson well-learned from classics like Aliens or Predator. Mostly young cast does their roles very well but that can't be said of their olde colleagues. For example, Robert Patrick is slightly over-the-top as jingoistic coach.

The ending of the film is also very good because it defies usual genre conventions. There Williamson shows that he conceived The Faculty as intelligent and serious film. But this seriousness was perhaps too much for the taste and expectations of average American audience in late 1990s and that explains why this film failed to become another Scream. On the other hand, those viewers who don't expect trend-setting event film are going to be rewarded with less spectacular but nevertheless entertaining mix of genres.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on August 12th 2004)

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