The Faculty (1998)

*. Back in the ’90s it was the thing to describe every movie like a pitch, as a blend of Movie X and Y (and maybe Z). The Faculty happily adopted this approach, and I think very few reviews avoided calling it Invasion of the Body Snatchers (of whatever vintage) and/or The Thing meets The Breakfast Club.
*. That it should be such a knowing hybrid is no surprise, coming from the pen (or keyboard) of screenwriter Kevin Wiliamson (who had been called in to make a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel more hip for the target audience). As Kim Newman puts it in Nightmare Movies, Williamson “became the go-to guy for teen demographic terror” at this time with Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Scream 2 (1997) and this film. Before fizzling out career-wise. I mean, he went on to write a lot for TV, but while people still watch these silly horror movies, who watches Dawson’s Creek today? Who?
*. The Faculty is actually a fascinating movie in terms of career arcs. Look at the cast. Josh Hartnett in his virtual debut and before Black Hawk Down, Elijah Wood before The Lord of the Rings, Jon Stewart before The Daily Show, Jordana Brewster before Fast 5 (and counting). Oddly enough, Laura Harris’s career may have been winding down, though she’s very good here. There’s also Salma Hayek, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Usher, and instantly recognizable character actor Daniel von Bargen. This really was Hollywood High in the ’90s.
*. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, another interesting figure career-wise. Was it all downhill after El Mariachi? Well, Sin City was pretty good. But that’s about it for me. He’s certainly an odd, and probably a poor fit for this material.
*. So a curious blend of people coming up, people at the top, and a handful of veterans in various roles. And it’s also a movie that marks a watershed in terms of its effects, with some decent practical work unfortunately overwhelmed at the end by lots of very shaky CGI.
*. It’s a movie that couldn’t miss, but also couldn’t really work either. It’s just too derivative even for Williamson’s brand of knowingness. Take the roll call of kids: the nerd, the jock, the bitchy hot chick, the new girl, the goth girl, the rebel bad-boy. And yes, the token Black guy. Familiar. Well played, but just not that interesting.
*. Maybe they should have focused more on the faculty. They seem like they might be an interesting bunch. At times they even seem to enjoy messing with the kids. But as with most if not all alien body-snatchers they ultimately don’t have a very compelling story or motivation. Yes, they’re going to take over and then there won’t be any more of the bad feelings that you experience in high school. But just what will life be like? Will we all splash around like dolphins in freshwater lakes and streams? Will the parasitic slugs ditch their human bodies completely? Why keep them?
*. So OK, we’ve been here before. Even the jump from society at large to high school had already been made in the remake of Invaders from Mars. There’s just not enough that’s new here, so it ends up playing more like a rehash than a new interpretation of what’s being sampled. The Thing is obviously referenced in the testing scene and the business with the spider head, but those scenes aren’t done nearly as well as in the original and they don’t add anything new by way of homage.
*. Still, it’s a movie that has its fans. It’s a bit of fun and goes down easy. I wouldn’t say it has a cult following, but it’s a minor favourite that I look at and think should have been something more. Instead of being a mix of this and that it would have been better served if it had a clearer idea of what it wanted to be and stuck to it. But high school is a tough place to forge an identity. All anyone wants to do is fit in and be popular. Maybe the original story had more punch to it, but in Williamson’s hands it settles for just wanting to be liked.

7 thoughts on “The Faculty (1998)

      1. Alex Good Post author

        Well, there’s nothing very original about it, that’s for sure. But more than that it just feels like there’s nothing much at stake either.

    1. Alex Good

      I’m not sure what happened to Hartnett. He’s still getting work, but mostly in minor things. If you like Hartnett you’ll really like this. He throws off charm like he’s got it to burn.

      1. fragglerocking

        I checked his filmography and he’s been working steadily, I think they must be indie movies not on general release. Going to have a dig about when I get home from work later, see what I can find.

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