Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"The Faculty" (1998)

Starring Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster and Josh Hartnett
Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

I have to give it to Kevin Williamson - he owned the 1990s.  Not only was "Dawson's Creek" (somehow) ruling the airwaves, making mega-stars out of it's (dubiously) talented cast, but the "Scream" franchise had taken theatres by storm.  In 1998, he penned "The Faculty," a horror/sci-fi update of the classic "Body Snatchers" story set in a rural high school.  The film plays with some of the high school conventions, which meld pretty well with the alien invasion story, involving themes where characters are ostracized or feel like outsiders. 

Teachers at Herrington High School are beginning to act very strange.  A select few students begin to suspect something is up.  Casey (Elijah Wood) is a fairly typical teen nerd, picked on by the other students.  Delilah (Jordana Brewster) is the popular editor of the school paper, whom Casey has a crush on.  But Delilah is the girlfriend of Stan (Shawn Hatosy), captain of the football team.  Stokely (Clea DuVall) is an outsider who pretends to be a lesbian to keep people away from her.  Zeke (Josh Hartnett) is a drug dealer, repeating his senior year, but he hides a fairly incredible intelligence.  Finally, Marybeth (Laura Harris) is the new girl in school, and doesn't really know anyone.

Casey discovers a creature he believes to be a new species and brings it to his science teacher, Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart).  Pretty soon, however, the creatures have infested not only the teachers, but a growing number of the students as well.  Casey and Delilah witness Coach Willis (Robert Patrick) infecting the school nurse (Salma Hayek), but the faculty are able to cover it up and use the opportunity to infect the local police.  Casey, Stan, Delilah, Stokely, Zeke and Marybeth head to Zeke's house to get away from the school and figure out a plan.  After an encounter with Mr. Furlong, they discover that Zeke's cocaine (sorta) is lethal to the aliens.  They hatch a plan to use the drug to destroy the alien queen, which Stokely believes will kill all the parasites without harming the human hosts.

But who is the queen?  And who among the students can be trusted?  Ultimately, "The Faculty" will come down to a showdown in the school gym between the alien queen and the remaining students, who are quickly running low on Zeke's drugs. 

"The Faculty" is a pretty decent teen horror/sci-fi piece.  Writer Williamson and director Robert Rodriguez understand both their characters and their target audience.  Let's face it, though, the film is not some kind of in-depth exploration of various adolescent themes.  It addresses these concepts, but focuses more on producing an atmosphere of paranoia that eventually gives way to fairly standard monster movie tropes. 

The cast is up for it.  Even Josh Hartnett, who is usually a wooden block (y'know, the 90s Channing Tatum), seems to be putting some effort in and having a good time.  Pre-hobbit Elijah Wood is probably the one who gets the most screentime here.  There are some fun appearances for the teachers, including cameos by Salma Hayek, Jon Stewart and Famke Janssen, and music star Usher also plays one of Stan's friends on the football team. 

A solid cast, a slightly more intelligent than average script and some cool effects and sequences, "The Faculty" is a pretty fun little flick.  It also features a pretty cool soundtrack featuring covers of songs like "Another Brick in the Wall", "I'm Eighteen" and "School's Out" by bands like Soul Asylum and Stabbing Westward.  No great classic, but there's fun to be had here, for sure.