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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day 270: The Faculty

The Faculty
School's out for summer

Public high school is a pretty scary experience. You're stuck in a place for hours, forced to take classes you have no interest in with people you hate, and on top of that, the food is terrible. Sure, public school builds character and prepares you for the real world far better than a private school, but it's still one of the circles of Hell. With cold, sterile lifeless buildings, it's no surprise that so many horror movies involve high school students.

The Faculty is a 1998 science fiction horror movie directed by Robert Rodriguez (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn) and starring Elijah Wood (Lord Of The Rings, Sin city) as as high school student Casey Connor. At Herrington High School in Ohio, the faculty begins to act strangely, starting with football coach Joe Willis (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Marine). A slug-like alien dependent on water, takes over the coach, turning him into an aggressive, emotionless drone. The coach then begins to turn other members of the faculty into alien drones. Casey finds one of the aliens on the football field and brings it to his science teacher, Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, Half Baked). When water accidentally spills on the alien, it revives and is able to self-replicate. Along with Casey, only a few students notice the weird changes that are going on: the popular Delilah (Jordana Brewster, The Fast & The Furious, Chuck), goth outsider Stokely (Clea DuVall, Carnivale, The Grudge), former quarterback Stan (Shawn Hatosy, John Q, Dexter), drug-dealing loner Zeke (Josh Hartnett, 30 Days Of Night, Pearl Harbor), and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris, Dead Like Me, 24). Casey and Delilah sneak into the teacher's lounge to see if they can find any clues. They hide in a closet and watch as Nurse Harper (Salma Hayek, From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado) is attacked by the coach and transformed by the alien. At the same time, Casey and Delilah discover the dead body of one of their older teachers in the closet. They flee and when Casey returns with his parents and police in tow, all the evidence is gone. With the police now under alien control and the teachers now infecting students, the group gathers in the science room to get the alien Casey found only to discover it's gone. An infected Mr. Furlong attacks the group and is only stopped when Zeke stabs him in the eye with his homemade drug, a diuretic called Scat. The group flees to Zeke's house where he studies on of the aliens and determines that they constantly need water to live. Stokely hypothesises that killing the queen alien will turn everyone back to normal. Unsure if anyone in the group is an alien, Zeke has everyone snort the drug, revealing that Delilah is, in fact, infected. The rest of the group head back towards the school to find and kill the queen alien whom they believe is their principal. To their surprise, killing their principal does not cure everyone. Who is the alien queen and how will the group be able to stop her?

Who wants spaghetti for dinner?

I admittedly have a soft spot for The Faculty in my heart because I watched it a lot growing up. It's your quintessential teen horror movie, complete with a ragtag motley crew of characters that many teens can identify with. A lot of movies, not just horror, involving high school students tend to come off as disingenuous. That's not a problem in The Faculty with it's smart script and good direction. Writer Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) does a good job of crafting enjoyable, though cliché, characters with believable dialogue. It also helps that the actors portraying high schoolers actually look like they are still in school. I mean, Elijah Wood still looks like he could be in high school over ten years later. What makes the movie work so well is the fast pace and good acting. The cast is downright massive with talented actors who later went on to bigger careers. The movie has a good amount of suspense that blends well with the action later in the movie. The special effects are decent for the time and the alien queen looks very good in her true form. The soundtrack is late 90's awesomeness, with songs by Stabbing Westward, Garbage, The Offspring and Class of '99, which consisted of Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine and the late Layne Staley from Alice In Chains and Mad Season.

Some may notice the movies striking resemblance to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, even going so far as to call The Faculty a direct ripoff. In the movie, they actually acknowledge how their scenario is similar to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, so I think it's unfair to label the movie as a ripoff. They're openly acknowledging that the movie exists, so if anything, The Faculty should be viewed as either a re-imagining or a tribute since the movies are similar, but not entirely the same. A theme of the movie is that everyone in the group wants to change who they are. It's certainly a true sentiment for a lot of high school students which helps add an air of authenticity to the characters. My only issue with this is at the end when some in the group completely change who they used to be. Stokely, for example, was a goth loner who now wears bright girly clothes and changed her hair. The drug-dealing slacker Zeke is now on the football team. It's a good message to change for the better, but I didn't like the total 180 turns they did, implying that completely changing yourself will mean your happy. 

"I'm not Tobey Maguire!"

The Faculty is a fun sci-fi horror movie that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. There is plenty of suspense and action to keep things interesting and entertaining. The ragtag group of students is a bit cliché, but it allows people to identify with a certain character or characters. The cast is very impressive in terms of star power and acting ability. Robert Rodriguez does a good job of capturing the thrills and horror of the movie while writer Kevin Williamson crafts likable, if flawed, characters and dialogue. While it's not entirely original, The Faculty is still highly entertaining to this day.


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