Film discussion

The Faculty – Throwback 20

There’s something stirring at Herrington High School… something not of this world.

With that, we’re launched into 1999’s sleeper hit The Faculty: a sci-fi horror that stood out amongst the late bloom of teenage serial slashers and weird mega-hits of the last year of the twentieth century. Helmed by future genre cinema royalty Robert Rodriguez and with a screenplay from Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, The Faculty was the rare alignment of stars and an irreverent, offbeat vehicle, that resulted in a slice of movie magic.

The Faculty sees a group of mismatched students take on an insidious extraterrestrial invasion at their high school – think The Breakfast Club meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a healthy helping of The Thing and Alien too. This unlikely mashup of genres produces some plentiful fruit as The Faculty emerges as both a joyful subversion of high school thrillers, and as a full-blown sci-fi adventure in its own right.

Williamson shows this playfulness of trope subversion in his core group of teens. The dorky Casey might be the perfunctory lead, but his mismatched bunch of allies get their own fun shading here – whether it’s the goth badass Stokes, the jock with a heart of gold Stan, or the rebellious, drug-producing Zeke. The young cast come across especially well because of the level of young talent playing them; Casey is embued with Elijiah Wood’s earnest, sincere performance, and when you can count Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Shawn Hatosy, and Jordana Brewster amongst the teens on show, it’s a sign that this is far from a dull or insipid cast.

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Even the parents and teachers have a solid cast – Famke Janssen vamps it up as the sultry Miss Burke, Robert Patrick channels aggression as Coach Willis, and the divine Bebe Neuwirth plays the caustically funny principal of the school. That’s not even including Jon Stewart, Salma Hayek, and Piper Laurie amongst this film’s roster of talented actors stepping on board for this off-key slice of fun.

As the core cast group together, bouncing off one another that evokes the snark of a proto-Buffy, they enjoy some solid action setpieces and even bumping off an insidious staff member or two. Most prominent is the chilling finale where the surviving teens must fight the queen alien (no spoilers as to who that turns out to be…) in the school’s swimming pool and locker rooms and kill her with a batch of Zeke’s homemade drugs. It’s a little goofy and silly, but it plays it all seriously and has a lot of evident joy in doing so.

Ultimately, The Faculty succeeds in operating as an engaging teen horror movie while also being an interesting sci-fi tale and meta-commentary on teen films in the same way that Williamson’s own Scream did years before. Combine that with Rodriguez’s spirited direction, and you have a gawky, funny, creepy horror flick that might not have succeeded in taking over the world, but that definitely earned its spot as one of the cool kids of teen horror.

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