At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Faculty “98”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Horror/ Stars: Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Christopher McDonald, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Usher Raymond, Jon Stewart, Daniel von Bargen, Elijah Wood, Summer Phoenix, Jon Abrahams, Susan Willis, Pete Janssen, Tina Rodriguez, Danny Masterson, Wiley Wiggins, Harry Knowles, Louis Black, Eric Jungmann, Libby Villari, Duane Martin, Katherine Willis/Runtime: 104 minutes

I think is safe to start this review off by letting you in on a little secret you might already know dear reader. That of course being that no matter how hard some people may try to deny it when you really stop to think about it every single person during the time of your life known as high school is a little off in some way or another. Yes I suppose it can really come to depend on how you view the word “weird”, but looking back it just seemed like high school really was a hodgepodge of people from jocks, cheerleaders, potheads, freaks, geeks, drama students, computer whiz kids, history buffs, juvenile delinquents, preppy kids, goth kids, and the list goes on and on. Well what if I decided to throw extraterrestrials into that distinct blend? No I am not referring to people who were devoted Star Wars or Star Trek fans nor am I talking about the kids who every other weekend got together at night to put up some telescopes and look out at the stars. I am talking about the little green people variety, the ones that might have a merciless leader and wish to take over the world to say nothing of the kind that would hide in plain sight and then subsequently hunt high schoolers regards of what clique they belonged or how their classmates viewed them. I mean how the heck would high schoolers react if they discovered that these individuals were amongst their midst to say nothing of totally not wanting to be besties on the Gram or on Facebook?  Well it was with this plot hook in mind dear reader that iconic film helmer Robert Rodriguez gave us a slice of cinematic pie in 1998 known as The Faculty, a film that gives us an ominous yet also quirky and comedic take on what would happen if a high school found itself under siege by an invasion of extraterrestrial proportions. Indeed equal parts Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from 1982, and The Breakfast Club, The Faculty may not be the say all, end all when it comes to movies about aliens, but it is, thanks to the work done behind the camera and in front by a truly game and lively cast, one of the more underappreciated and distinct movies in that particular subgenre that I have seen in quite a while.

The plot is as follows: The Faculty tells us the story of a high school by the name of Herrington High. A high school which, in addition to being the proud Home of the Hornets, is also the closest thing the world will ever see when it comes to a school utilizing downright terrible prioritization of the fiscal resources it gets every year. A fact that is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that although new computers are not an option and the drama department’s ability to put on a play this year is in flux, the athletic squad is still always able to get every single thing that they make a requisition for. Put another way: it’s your average, typical, run-of-the-mill high school. That is until here recently when an extraterrestrial menace arrived and began slowly but surely taking over. Yet this alien species is one that is frighteningly intelligent in its evil machinations. That is because this take-over is not being done in full view of the world, but rather slowly, methodically, and covertly in every way possible starting with the faculty and now they have set their sights on the students from the longest tenured seniors all the way to the freshest behind the ears freshman and everyone in between. Thankfully, we soon see that the aliens and their diabolical plot might just see their efforts upended due to the team-up of six truly unlikely heroes. Those being head of the school paper Delilah Profitt whose ability to find news and trouble in equal measure is uncanny, top athlete Stan Rosado who would rather do anything than continue to play football, Marybeth Louise Hutchinson who is new on campus, nerdy/science-fiction knowledgeable Stokely Mitchell, meek school paper photographer Casey Connor, and repeat-senior despite being the most brilliant person in the whole school Zeke Tyler. Thus can this group of truly unusual heroes figure out what is going, kick some serious alien butt, and in the process save the planet from a ruthless and so totally downright hostile alien invasion? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself…..

Now right off the bat I guess I should let you know that there isn’t anything entirely novel or unique about this film or at least nothing that is, dare I say, entirely out of this world. Yet there is one thing this movie does well and that is that it makes what it is working with fresh and in the process gives it an entirely new lease on life. This movie is almost like someone who comes home for the day beaten and muddied and resigned to how their day went going for a relaxing soak in their bath and emerging feeling better and ready for whatever the next day holds even if they are still the same person. Indeed it is this rejuvenation that film helmer Robert Rodriguez manages to accomplish here for the Teen Peril and Extraterrestrial Menace subgenres. Yes there are all things you have come to expect including no one believing our heroes, the aliens existing out in the open, secrets being uncovered, no one knowing who they can trust, etc. Yet in this slice of cinematic pie these ideas are all balanced out fairly well and it is obvious that this slice of cinematic pie is just enjoying itself blending all of these rehashed ingredients together. Not only that, but this film also does a great job at keeping its mystery appropriately ominous even though a lot of the truth behind it is known right from the get-go. Suffice it to say then that this film is able to merge mystery, dark comedy, terror, and sci-fi together in a way that is astonishingly brilliant and even if the effects work is not entirely up to snuff, the narrative is able to work past that in a way that is truly remarkable. Suffice it to say then that this film is one that is distinguishable from others like it due to sheer effort, well-written and performed characters, feeling genuine and real, and a tempo that is just right. Indeed helmer Rodriguez manages to keep this movie going at just the right pace and even though it goes where you might think it’s going it will still entertain you regardless.

I mean it really is quite delightfully astonishing to see just how wonderfully this movie is able to operate even with the clichés that it is utilizing. Yet for all the energy this movie has at its disposal, it equalizes it out with surprisingly fleshed out performances. Indeed our group of main characters are all constructed and more immersive in terms of characterization than you might expect for this kind of film and even the adults in the movie be they human or otherwise throughout all portray their respective roles with a degree of fun to them and they all manage to do wonderful at becoming these aliens who might look like a person on the outside, but who slip up due to not knowing how to behave like one as well or at least in a way that seems organic rather than artificial. It’s also worth noting that the movie’s recreation of the world of high school is also well done too since Herrington actually seems like a genuine locale. Yes it might be falling apart to say nothing of not getting nearly as much in the way of funds as they used to, but at least this feels like a real locale rather than some backlot in Hollywood. Above all though, it’s the cast of 90s favorites, Rodriguez familiars, and young stars on the rise who make this film work on the level that it does even when taking into account the film’s energetic and on point helmsmanship. Indeed it is that mix of intricate characterization and performers who genuinely coalesce rather than go through the motions really contributes to the peril, realisticness, and bravado that are part and parcel for this film and the finished result is a slice of cinematic pie that is better than expected thus giving us one of the better 90s group of teens horror films this side of the Scream films.

All in all and at the end of the day, I think it is quite reasonable safe to say that the slice of cinematic pie that is The Faculty is one that easily could have been a lot worse due to checking all the necessary boxes, having twists that weren’t the most surprising in the world, and having a conclusion that anyone could see coming from a mile away if they really looked for it. However, if you then threw into that mix a group of main characters that were surprisingly three-dimensional, very well-done performances from a truly game cast, and a filmmaker who has a wonderful talent for making a movie with more precision than a lot of other filmmakers in the world of movie magic then all of a sudden you would get a slice of cinematic pie that is transformed from a rainy day kind of film that you could fall asleep while watching and not miss a thing to a movie that is actually not that bad all things considered. No, The Faculty will most likely never be seen as an iconic entry in either of its respective genres of Sci-Fi or Horror, but if nothing else it is both not bad as well as a movie that can be seen time and time again and will entertain you each and every time you choose to sit down and revisit it. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Faculty “98” a solid 3.5 out of 5.