The late 90’s were a magical time. Ask anyone who spent their formative years during the time just before the turn of the millennium. Horror was just starting to make a comeback after a DOWN period, the internet hadn’t yet permeated our everyday lives, and we had no idea movies like The Faculty would come along and feature such early performances from a laundry list of Grade A talent. Just how good is it 20 years later? We’ll tell you via spoilery review below, but the short answer is - it’s radical.
Reviewed by: Jake
Let’s keep this basic. The Faculty’s plot is basically one part The Breakfast Club/high school movie, one part invasion of the body snatchers conspiracy and one part The Thing. It’s elegant in its simplicity and it doesn’t really give a damn about being messy or derivative. A crew of high school seniors from all levels of the social pecking order uncover that an alien life form is taking over the faculty of their school and gradually overcoming everyone around them. Casey (Elijah Wood), Zeke (Josh Hartnett), Delilah (Jordana Brewster), Stokely (Clea DuVall), Stan (Shawn Hatosy) and Marybeth (Laura Harris) are left to try to stop the invasion and save themselves from being assimilated in the process.
Taking a cue from the alien invasion movies and book they know like The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the students begin to look for the alien queen to try to put a stop to things and they realize that the alien apparently needs a significant amount of water to keep from drying out and dying. Zeke has a homemade drug he sells to students that they begin using as a weapon to shrivel the assimilated faculty and students to death.
Things get dire and their numbers start to dwindle as they are picked off one-by-one and eventually, trapped in the school gym, Marybeth reveals that she is actually the alien queen. Casey is able to trap and kill her in the bleachers, returning everyone to normal and saving the town (maybe the planet). Hooray.
What the Movie Does Right
Did you see the cast? This is an absolute treasure trove of delightful actors, several of which are just getting their starts, making this a great time-capsule film. This is the first screen credit for both Jordana Brewster and Usher. It features Jon Stewart and Famke Janssen, and it’s a breakout for Elijah Wood before we went and played a hobbit in a certain movie series that did ok. Given how prolific and important Wood has become to the genre, this has to be pointed at as an important part of what made that happen. This is also directed by Robert Rodriguez. I am an absolute shameless From Dusk till Dawn fanboy (it’s my favorite horror movie) and some of his frenetic and extremely satisfying action-oriented shots are on display here as well.
A lot of the charm in this movie is in how it takes its influences and makes them work within it’s setting. Probably the best example of this is a recreation of the famous blood test scene from The Thing. In The Faculty, the students need to figure out if any of them are infected, and the way to find out is to snort Zeke’s drug in his basement. If they are human they will trip balls but be fine. Alien? They’re dead. This is a hilarious take on an iconic scene and it works super well for the film.
Finally, for the sake of brevity, I will just say that this movie is a delightful time capsule and a bit of an Easter egg treasure trove. The soundtrack is specific and on point for the era, the movie hits the high school tone out of the park and is full of things that fans of the actors, director and action/sci-fi/horror in general can sink their teeth into. One of many examples is that Jon Stewart plays a teacher named Edward Furlong, which is the name of the actor who played John Connor in Terminator 2. Awesome.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Some folks will shit on the derivative elements of the movie and one thing that should be perfectly clear is that this movie is indeed taking and using the elements of the iconic sci-fi films within its own setting. That is not something I am going to consider it does wrong but that lack of originality might have an impact on some peoples’ viewing experience. I think where it gets more dicey is with the general messiness of the plot and with anything remotely approaching science. This movie doesn’t care at all about making the mechanisms that deliver a win for our protagonists make sense, and it certainly doesn’t give a fuck about explaining how everyone survived the film. They full-on decapitate Famke Janssen’s character in this flick and she’s just fine at the end of the movie, like everyone else. If that sort of thing bothers you, you’re probably gonna have a bad time with this flick.
The other main item that belongs in this category is any of the CG effects. There are quite a bit of awesome practical effects in the film, but some really, really heinous looking CG. See earlier point about Famke Janssen’s character. That shit looks preposterously bad.
Story: 4 - This is a derivative plot that does several interesting things but never feels like it is doing anything high minded. That’s just fine but it won’t net high scores.
World-Building / Immersion: 9 - Rodriguez movies have a direct line to my immersion-bone. I can’t take my eyes off screen in this movie. And that is in spite of the totally messy and unbelievable mechanism that the resolution of the story leans on. As mentioned before, results will vary in this category but for me, this is a great time and one I easily get sucked into.
Scare-Factor: 3 - This is not a very scary movie. There are a couple grisly scenes but it all has more of an action feel in practice than a scary vibe.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7 - All the practical (and there is a pretty good amount) looks great. The CG looks horrible. From an audio standpoint, the score is immensely awesome.
Overall: 7.5 - I feel shame that this was my first time experiencing The Faculty but I will now see it at least annually for the rest of my days. Give it a go.