Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Remembering The Faculty

In 1998, two prominent school-based horror movies were released: The Faculty and Disturbing Behavior. Even at the time, The Faculty was clearly the superior product, and even a decade on, it still has a nice sheen to it.

The Faculty seems like it is almost a forgotten part of Robert Rodriguez's film resume, tucked neatly in the half-decade between From Dusk Till Dawn and Spy Kids, when I myself feel it stands up to comparison with some of his more prominent work.

When I first saw The Faculty on video back in 1999, I described the movie as The Breakfast Club meets The Thing. I think that is a rather fitting short description of the movie, especially since there are two scenes in particular that are totally copped from the latter.

The film follows an eclectic group of high school kids as they start noticing some strange things afoot at their educational institution, especially when it comes to the teaching staff, who are acting very strangely... and soon their fellow students start showing the same symptoms. Some entity seems to be taking over the school, and it is up to this ragtag team of disparate personalities to try to figure out a way to remain individuals, while dealing with each other with suspicion, as the entity could possess any one of them. Paranoia and feelings of alienation seem so right in this context.

Featuring a teenage cast that includes a pre-Lord of the Rings Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris and Jordana Brewster, the movie just basks in atmosphere, and because of one of the character's love and knowledge of classic science fiction, there are some rather smart plot elements and observations about the genre. And the adult actors aren't too shabby either: Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Bebe Neuwirth and Robert Patrick along with Robert Rodriguez mainstay Salma Hayak and a little comic relief from Jon Stewart as a Science teacher named Professor Edward Furlong.

The screenplay was written by Kevin Williamson, who also penned Scream and was the creator of Dawson's Creek, so you know the dialogue is overly articulate and what one might called precious. However, in this setting, it comes off as crisp and works well with the story and the actors involved. And since the setting is a fictional town in Ohio, it gives the whole story a classic "this could happen anywhere" vibe which makes the material that much more approachable. The effects aren't too bad either, as they combine the best elements of practical and makeup FX with well applied CGI.

So while it likely won't get the attention or acclaim that Desperado and Sin City have gotten, The Faculty is a satisfying thriller that I think will come to be regarded warmly by horror fans in the coming years and build a following as more people see it and embrace its charms.


Arjan said...

Famke Janssen & Salma Hayek in one movie..that's already good..and nex to that I just liked it. I've probably seen this on over 10 times or so.

Bart said...

Saw it a few times in the theater back when it came out, got the soundtrack (an element of the movie that really adds to the atmosphere...that scene at the football game wouldn't have been as good without that "dream team" of grungers playing Another Brick in the Wall). Recently caught it again on cable and you're right, I think it holds up fairly well given its age.

MC said...

Arjan: And Famke cleans up really nice in the movie as well.

Bart: They just showed it up here and it inspired me to write this post. I liked it then and I like it now.