The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of my favorite sci-fi plot devices. The idea of aliens taking over earth, by appearing to be our loved ones, is a wonderfully creepy idea. In 1998 I couldn't have been a much bigger Robert Rodriguez fan, after the great start to his career with El Mariachi, Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn, I thought the guy could do no wrong behind the camera. Kevin Williamson, who'd burst onto the scene with the brilliant Scream, wrote the script. Bringing these elements together for The Faculty, was an almost ideal situation for me at the time. I remember excitedly trekking to the theater, only to be very let down by an extremely average sci-fi/horror film.
Nothing about it jumped out at me. It felt like Rodriguez had been neutered, none of his style or panache was present in The Faculty, and I lost a lot of respect for him that day. I don't know how Rodriguez felt about the film, but he seemed to take it hard as well. I think the studio system got to him, they beat his creativity down and it took three years for him to make another film. By far the longest he's gone between films, he's released almost one a year since then, sometimes two. His next film was Spy Kids, and even though it was made for children, it felt like a Rodriguez film. And although he's made some stinkers since then, some films worse than The Faculty, all of them have that Rodriguez stamp to them.
It took me 10 years to revisit The Faculty, it played on HBO during one of their free weekends, and I figured, why not? And you know what, without all those expectations I really enjoyed it. I still think it lacks a lot of that fun Rodriguez filmmaking style, the camera-work and editing is extremely static compared to most of his other films. What I enjoyed about it most, was the freedom he gives his actors.
Robert Patrick is deliciously evil as the football coach and first faculty member to be turned into an alien. Bebe Neuwirth, a veteran character actress, seems to be having a blast in this B-movie. Jon Stewart has maybe his finest acting role, which isn't saying much, as the science teacher who is incredibly excited about the new species found by his students. Salma Hayek, unfortunately doesn't have a ton to do, but stand around in the background and look hot. Famke Janssen has maybe the best role in the film, as the quiet English teacher, who turns into a femme-fatale once the aliens take over her body.
In the ten years since this film was released, the casting of the kids has proved to be incredibly smart. With nearly every one of them still working as very recognizable actors. Way before he was Frodo, Elijah Wood, is nearly perfect as the nerdy kid who gets picked on by the jocks, but in the end shows he has the biggest stones of them all. Josh Hartnett, rocking a very unfortunate 90's bed-head haircut, shows some of that early promise as a genius drug-dealer. (I truly believe he has a great movie in him.) Shawn Hatosy, seems oddly miscast as the school's star QB, he doesn't have the looks or the swagger, but he proves to be the right choice as his story develops. Clea DuVall does her usual outcast thing. Jordana Brester is pretty, in the pretty girl role. Usher's just there for the poster shot, he has about three very rehearsed lines in the film. The kid's oddball chemistry is really what makes the film work.
The screenplay is the weakest point of the film. Kevin Williamson proves that he wasn't much more than a one-hit-wonder, his banter sounds exactly the same way it did in the Scream films and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The kids are too all-knowing, too-hip. The things coming out of their mouth is pure movie talk. Included in this film is one of cinema's biggest "what the fuck" scenes of all time, when he has all the kids take Meth to prove their not aliens. (This certainly isn't Kurt Russell testing the blood in The Thing.)
But Rodriguez manages to have some fun with this mess. He ramps up the suspense pretty well in a few of the scenes; with the gore and creature effects also proving to be a highlight, it's not too disgusting, but it works well when he uses it. The final monster is completely ridiculous, but the film has a who-cares vibe to the whole thing, so by the end you'll buy just about anything.
The film certainly isn't a forgotten classic. It has too many scenes that don't work, but those that do are certainly fun. The actors don't behave anything like real people, but you can tell they're having fun with all the cheese, which makes the film entertaining. Plus it's fun to see all these actors who went on to bigger things as youngsters. They tried to sell this film with one of those stupid 90's teen-horror-film posters, where all the stars heads lined up, but I'd rank it above most of those films, and would probably only place it behind the original Scream in watchablilty. - Grade: C+