ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 31, 1998
By Steve Newton
I’m not sure which is scarier in The Faculty, the way the alien-infested high-school teachers go about their violent take-over-the-Earth mission or the way the supposedly typical students treat each other on a day-to-day basis. By setting his sci-fi-tinged horror flick in your common hotbed of alienation and conformity, screenwriter Kevin Williamson (the Scream films, I Know What You Did Last Summer) has really found a way to make you squirm. If the sluglike parasites scurrying around underneath the skin of villains’ faces don’t do the trick, the sight of intellectual outsider Casey (Elijah Wood) being rammed balls-first into a flagpole by a gang of jocks will.
Casey is the unlikely hero who bands together with a group of fellow Herrington High students after they discover that their underfunded school is being taken over by aliens, with the disillusioned staff the first to go. The faculty—which includes Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s Robert Patrick as a bullying football coach and Carrie’s Piper Laurie as an idealistic drama teacher—gets alienized (and given nicer personalities) after a number of gory set pieces, including the old pencil-through-the-hand trick.
But the film’s slasher-flick intro soon eschews Scream’s maniac-stalker route for more science-fiction territory, with plenty of nods to the excellent 1987 alien-invasion flick The Hidden and more recent and less decent outings such as Species (featuring a naked alien chick) and Deep Rising (with a giant-squid-like monster).
In keeping with Williamson’s self-reflective style, much is made in the dialogue of the plot’s similarity to popular sci-fi stories like Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters and Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers. Hey, if you’re gonna plunder the classics, you might as well be up-front about it.
But even with its secondhand backbone, The Faculty succeeds as a youth-oriented shocker due to director, editor, and frequent camera-operator Robert (El Mariachi) Rodriguez’s provocative eye and frantic pacing. Apart from some of the hokier computer-animated scenes, most of the alien FX are topnotch. And with a cast that isn’t peppered with hip young TV stars, the film keeps you guessing as to which potential victims might actually survive for the inevitable Faculty 2: We’ll Need Some Slug Bait Over Here.