The Faculty (1998)

D: Robert Rodriguez
S: Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Robert Patrick

Redundant but occasionally amusing retread of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and other assorted fifties sci-fi/horror flicks written by the current king of postmodern self-referential horror, Kevin Williamson (Scream, Scream 2, etc.), though the story is also credited to David Wetcher and Bruce Kimmel. Irresistible advertising pitch has kids at all-American Ohio High School discovering that their weird teachers are really from another planet after all, with nefarious plans to take over the world (unless we stop them! You're next! You're next!). Unfortunately everything is played just a tad too straight and the predictable (natch) story is dragged on for far too long to keep you entertained. Director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, From Dusk Till Dawn) is uncharacteristically muted in his handling of many drawn out stalk and chase scenes and delivers very few shocks despite the best efforts of computer-generated beasties and sly performances from the adult cast, including Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Piper Laurie and Famke Janssen (Deep Rising). It's really all too obvious for its own good, and this cannot be excused just because the characters keep making references to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Puppet Masters which signals the makers' awareness of how derivative it is.

It begins with an overlong intro which presents us with the tired and frustrated academic staff of an ordinary High School ending another fruitless budgetary meeting in everyday America, only to conclude with a strange confrontation between headmistress Neuwirth and head coach Patrick which escalates from come on to attempted murder. Why? Oooh, I don't know, maybe it's because Patrick is an alien now... The rest of the film follows much the same line, with the familiar patterns of the subversive alien takeover being played strictly by the book. A group of assorted teens manage to avoid the push to conformity (though each wears their badge of teenage angst and generic behaviour, of course) and fight back. But who is the 'queen bee', who among The Faculty must they kill to save the school, the town and the world? Oooh, I don't know, is there going to be a twist in there? Of course there is, and if you don't see it coming, you've never watched a movie.

Perhaps The Faculty would work best if you really had never seen a movie, because its tiresome self-awareness is really its only selling point. But if you really had no idea of where it all was coming from, it might well work. It is generally well mounted and everything is done with enough verve to please the undemanding or tolerant viewer. It's too predictable for words and never raises a moment of genuine fear or suspense, but that should come as no surprise in the era of the nudge nudge wink wink non horror. The film seems intended to work entirely as a black comic joke, which it does to a point. But it does eventually wear out its welcome with way too many distended confrontations which batter the premise to death and gradually become less and less funny, until the final, supposedly ironic summation argues that the alien intervention has given a much-needed injection of change to an otherwise stagnant human race which is simply cringeworthy.

The teen cast commit themselves well enough under the circumstances with Halloween H20's Josh Hartnett playing the standard issue slacker with more brains than anyone knows (sniff! no one understands me!). The only genuine acting interest is in the adult performances though, which manage that edge of self-parody so desperately necessary to make this nonsense watchable at all.

The Faculty is certainly not a film of which you would have had high expectations before viewing, but it is a lot less fun that it might have been. It may raise a giggle or two on a slow night, but you'd be much better off turning to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers for genuine chills, the original Invaders from Mars for a weird retro fifties vibe, or Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space for (unintended) laughs.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.