The Faculty (1998)

The Faculty (1998)

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"I'm so freakin' high right now..."
“I’m so freakin’ high right now…”

Twitter Plot Summary: The faculty of an American high school are taken over by parasitic creatures and it’s up to a group of students to prevent world domination.

The Body Snatchers template has always provided its fair share of decent cinematic entertainment. Drawing heavy influence from those films, The Faculty moves the setting to an American high school. The students, an array of standard stereotypes including Elijah Wood (the nerd), Jordana Brewster (the pretty one), Josh Hartnett (the druggie) and Clea Duvall (the goth), all begin to suspect that their teachers (and eventually their fellow students) are being taken over by alien parasites. As is often the case, it becomes a race against time as more and more people fall under the parasitic influence and paranoia becomes all-encompassing.

The Faculty balances on the horror/comedy tightrope, suitably gory in places and with a script that has fun with the body snatchers concept. The parasites require water to survive and the only way for the survivors to stay lucid and human is, ironically, by taking mind-altering drugs provided by Hartnett’s Zeke. This provides its own fair share of amusement given that the group must combat an alien threat whilst being high as a kite. They must also contend with the possibility that one or more of them may already be infected and putting on a performance in order to fit in. It’s this angle and tone that The Faculty gets right most often, more than making up for the lack of depth elsewhere in the script.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it bears all the trademarks of his directorial style by slapping various influences together to form something that, whilst not new, delights in providing twists to genre expectations and adds a dash of self-referential humour. A few shots are thrown in to give the impression that certain characters have been infected when they have not, and vice versa. The finale, without delving into spoilers, also provides a slightly more interesting twist than usual and, whilst not entirely out of the blue, does its job well.

"We didn't do anything to the fish, honest."
“We didn’t do anything to the fish, honest.”

The young cast are supported by a range of big name actors as the adults and school teachers. Robert Patrick provides his usual intensity as the school sports teacher. He’s backed up by a smart turn from Famke Janssen, Rodriguez regular Salma Hayek, Piper Laurie and Bebe Neuwirth as members of the faculty. The transition of their personalities from pre to post-parasitic invasion are like chalk and cheese, and with the exception of some questionable twists later in the film they are a thoroughly enjoyable bunch. Patrick in particular remains an intense presence either side of him being taken over, but his method of playing it is spot on.

Throw in the odd reference of foreshadowing and the occasional cheesy one-liner and you have a winner. It may lack depth and subtlety, and not wrap up every single plot strand in a neat little bow, but that would detract from what Rodriguez is known to make – that is, entertaining action films where you don’t need a degree in order to understand the plot. From that perspective The Faculty is a success. It doesn’t hold up to most of its Body Snatchers brethren, but it is huge amounts of fun.

Score: 3.5/5

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