School’s Out: ‘The Faculty’ Retrospective
Original Film Poster
Are Teachers Aliens?
This is an old classic I hadn’t seen in quite a while. It was very intriguing at the time and was quick to catch interest. It’s called The Faculty, a mystery horror film that came out in 1998 and was directed by Robert Rodriguez. I guess the film was intriguing because the way the TV spots were portrayed added a layer of mystery as to what was happening. You weren’t sure exactly what was going on but knew that something wasn’t right in the film’s setting and situation.
The film’s plot revolves around six uniquely different high school students. They have absolutely nothing to do with one another, except that they start believing their teachers are actually aliens. As their teachers begin to act more out of character, their suspicions grow. They all form a group and band together as they attempt to get to the bottom of what’s happening.
From a structural point of view, The Faculty does have vibes of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We see the teachers in the first part of the film appear normal and casual. As the film progresses they begin to act differently. For example, one teacher is shy and nervous when talking to students, but later becomes more assertive.
After the establishing scene and title, the film opens with the six main protagonists. This was rather unique as it began with an introduction for each character. While some may feel that it was unnecessary I felt it added flare to the film and quickly established who the main characters were.
Of the six, the primary protagonist is Casey, played by Elijah Wood. He’s awkward and somewhat nerdy. He’s established as a target for the jocks when they need something to laugh at. He also works as a photographer for the school paper. Despite his nerdy stature, he is actually very good at running very fast, something that may come in handy for him later on.
The school paper’s editor-in-chief is the popular girl Delilah, played by Jordana Brewster. She’s also the head cheerleader and is pretty snobbish to those beneath her. However, she is one of those people who’s nice to those who get to know her.
School football player Stan, played by Shawn Hatosy, is Delilah’s boyfriend. Because he’s on the football team he gets special privileges, such as receiving high grades from teachers without earning them. However he begins to grow tired of this and wants to earn things the fair way, which causes him to quit the football team.
Clea DuVall plays Strokes, the goth girl. She’s antisocial and stays mostly to herself. Similar to Delilah, she too opens up more to the others once they get to know her. Strokes is fully aware that she’s an outcast but isn’t ashamed of it. Actually, she pretends to be gay just so guys won’t bother her.
Zeke is played by Josh Hartnett. He’s the residential hooligan and is repeating the twelfth grade. He appears lazy and lives alone since his parents are out traveling. He’s actually very smart. He has a chemistry lab in his basement where he does various experiments. Unfortunately he spends most of this intelligence and resources creating drugs that he sells out of his car. He’s the antihero of the group since he has a criminal background but is resourceful and helps the others figure out what’s happening and how to deal with it.
The last protagonist is Marybeth, played by Laura Harris. She’s the new girl in town and is very perky and nice to everyone. She speaks with a southern accent and claims that she’s from Atlanta. She’s also somewhat eager to help others, such as getting Stan and Stokes closer to one another. Marybeth does take an interest in Zeke, but for a minor spoiler, she does somewhat develop an interest in Casey.
Usher Raymond cameos in the film as a football player despite being promoted as being one of the main cast. Robert Patrick plays Coach Willis, the first to exhibit bizarre behavior. Famke Janssen plays Ms. Burke, a shy teacher who has a hard time with Zeke. Bebe Neuwirth plays Principal Drake, who parades around the school like a queen once her personality changes.
Back to the story, one day Casey discovers a strange organism and takes it to Mr. Furlong, played by Jon Stewart. They discover that the organism is in suspended animation until it comes into contact with water. It’s placed in a tank where it quickly awakens into a life form with several tiny tentacles. More and more strange events begin happening which prompts the group of six to band together. Casey deduces that it must be aliens that are involved with their teachers’ behavior. The others are of course taken back by this and initially don’t believe him until they meet Mr. Furlong. Not only is the organism gone, but the teacher attacks the students and exhibits lovecraftian abilities, such as displaying tentacles like the organism.
Here’s a major spoiler to the film, there are indeed aliens. The organism Casey found was an extraterrestrial parasite that needs water to survive. They use their tentacles to pull themselves inside another life form, such as a human body. Throughout the film you will notice that the teachers are constantly drinking water to keep the aliens hydrated. The aliens can also reproduce asexually while in a wet environment. Their master plan is to keep growing their numbers until they take over the world.
The six go to Zeke’s house where he performs experiments on a captured alien parasite. They discover that the aliens can be killed by Zeke’s drug, which instantly dries them out. Zeke has everyone take the drug to make sure that they aren’t infected like the teachers. Afterwards, they learn about a nighttime football game where the school plans on infecting more people. The group do figure out that the aliens operate on a hive mind, meaning if they kill the lead alien then all of them should die. They deduce that the principal must be the leader and go after her during the game.
The overall structure of the film is pretty interesting since it’s that mystery of what’s going on. The thing is that the first two acts are just boring filler. Things begin to pick up once the revelation of aliens in the school becomes a reality. Afterwards the film shifts from mystery to a straight science fiction horror film.
The soundtrack doesn’t stand out too much. There are a few rock songs here and there but the only memorable song is Another Brick in the Wall by Class of ’99. In fact on the VHS version the music video to the song plays after the end credits. It also plays early on during the climatic football game.
Overall The Faculty is a recommended film, however it is a cautious recommendation. Personally while I found the film entertaining some may find the first and second acts mostly boring. As mentioned before the film doesn’t start to pick up until the alien situation is revealed. The effects are a little outdated by today’s standards, but it doesn’t take away from the film’s story. Speaking of effects, there is a good practical effect with the lead alien. There’s also a pretty big plot twist in the climax, however there are subtle clues earlier that foreshadows it. This film did remind me of two other similar science fiction films from the 80s, John Carpenter’s The Thing and the extremely graphic Society. Those films are a little more memorable than The Faculty, but this film has its place in history. A strength was the six protagonist since each one offered something different to the table. If you want a different spin on the alien invasion genre that’s easy on effects give this one a view.
Original film trailer
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