The Cold Light of (Mon)day: The Faculty (1998)

For some reason, and let’s blame Penny Dreadful, I’ve decided to go on a bit of a Josh Hartnett retrospective of late. As I have said before, I was never much of a Hartnett fan back in my youth but after seeing him as Ethan Chandler in Penny Dreadful I was forced to take pause and question if those early attitudes might not have been too hasty. In any case, that’s how I found myself re-watching The Faculty.

For those of you who weren’t old enough to be cinema goers or WB network hounds in the mid-to-late 90’s, The Faculty was a horror/sci-fi hybrid film, penned by the unstoppable teen-horror writing machine, Kevin Williamson. Apart from his numerous forays into teen horror, some of you might also remember him from Dawson’s Creek. It seems that after the release of Scream in 1996, you couldn’t go three months without another new-gen teen slasher flick being churned out by the pen of Williamson. To be fair, they weren’t all bad. Scream remains a classic of the genre and a staple part of the cannon, while I Know What You Did Last Summer also had some high points. I also really rated Cursed, although it seems no one else did. We might leave Teaching Mrs Tingle right out of the conversation though, because WTF? Then you get The Faculty, which is a weird movie and not as on point as some of Williamson’s other work. Still, in the spirit of our Josh Hartnett retrospective, we’ll push on…

The Faculty
(curse of the whopping cast. From the left, quarter-back turned geek; new girl; bad boy brain; IT girl; maybe lesbian; actual geek)

In a nutshell, the plot of the film is thus: waterborne aliens from another planet come to earth with the intention of taking over the human race. As a means of being inconspicuous they decide that they’re going to infiltrate not via the major cities or by supreme attack, but via Ohio. Things seem to be trucking along well for the alien race, which picks the track and field coach (Robert Patrick, who still looks like the T1000) of the local high school as their first victim**. Once a take-over of the coach, and soon enough the rest of the faculty (see how the film gets its name?) is complete, it is on to the student body. Luckily, they’re paying a bit more attention than their adult counterparts and they’re not going to go down without a fight. As you might guess, a battle between the forces of good and evil, humans and aliens ensues. Luckily, the lead characters have a bunch of old sci-fi writing they can refer back to for guidance.

**this is important to note, we’ll come back it

I think the biggest sin of this film is that it tries to run with way too many characters. I mean, in the first scene alone, we’re introduced to 5 people, and none of them are key characters, but at the same time they need to be there for the story to make sense. In a 90 minute film that already has a core teen cast of 6, a secondary cast of that size, most of whom live, is a tough sell. And while we’re on the topic, let’s look at those teen characters: first of all you have Zeke, the heart-throb bad boy of the piece. Josh Hartnett is playing this role and look, it’s one he’s got down pat – just see Halloween: H20 and The Virgin Suicides (Trip Fonatine, be still my heart), for further proof of this. Joining Zeke is the token geek, played to perfection by Elijah Wood. For someone as accomplished as Wood, it feels weird seeing him in this film, which was clearly a vehicle for up and comers (same goes for Salma Hayek, but her role is so brief you can be forgiven for forgetting she was even in the film). Shawn Hatosy is next on the list, as quarter-back jock turned bookish nerd. There’s something about Hatosy that has always rubbed me wrong, and it was long before I saw him in the epic video for What Goes Around, Comes Around by Justin Timberlake, in which he plays the horrible best friend of JT. I find it very hard to root for him, so his character in this annoys me. Then we have Stokely, the edgy token Goth chick, who may be a lesbian but then again may be secretly in love with quarter-back jock. Remember, this is the late 90’s, so being a maybe lesbian was still a big thing. Again, Clea Duval has always kind of rubbed me wrong, although I did rate her highly in Carnivale, so I like her well enough in this. Rounding out the posse, we have the new girl and IT girl, the latter being played by Jordana Brewster, before she became part of the Fast and the Furious juggernaut. They’re probably the least likeable/least developed characters so I am not going to waste time on them here.

Elijah Wood
(will the token nerd get the girl? Why does he even want her, she’s a complete bitch… in some ways this is a lot like real life)

Stokely
(back in the 90’s the whole metal necklace, black clothing, dirty hair, dark eye make-up thing maybe you a prime candidate for being a lesbian. Poor Stokely.)

this guy
(and this guy. it’s okay, maybe Stokely isn’t a lesbian and is actually in love with you)

As it’s so hard trying to get through that short introduction of the main characters, I’m not even going to attempt the supporting cast. Ultimately, there is not enough time to really develop any one of the characters beyond their stereotypical teen moulds and as a result, the film runs out of puff about half way through and, when the bad guy is revealed at the end, it all feels a bit confused. On the positive side, I did enjoy the continued references to sci-fi writers of old and I hope that some viewers might be curious enough to go and check some of them out. For the time, the special effects are decent and there are a few laugh out loud moments. Overall, revisiting this did nothing to soften my attitude towards vintage Hartnett, luckily Penny Dreadful season 3 is about to kick off, so I guess there’s always Ethan Chandler.

Zeke
(not just a bad boy with a pretty face, Zeke is also a drug dealer and budding scientist)

Oh, and you’ll note that Usher is in the movie poster – prominently in the movie poster .. don’t get excited Usher fans, it’s a bit part at best. I think he gets more screen time in She’s All That, so if you’re jonesing for a mid-90’s Usher fix, sate yourself with that one.

**Spoiler alert: Looking back, it make sense that the alien is actually a lady alien and really, we should have been on to her from the beginning. Think about it, if you were a lady alien, looking to infiltrate a high school, where would you begin? You’d begin by getting up close and personal with the varsity male athletes of course, which totally explains why the coach is the first victim.

It’s also funny to be that when it’s implied at the end of the film that Zeke and his teacher have begun some kind of intimate relationship it seems almost like it was meant to happen, like their chemistry was just too undeniable and maybe he repeated senior year just so he could goad her with cherry flavoured prophylactics. What’s funny to me that this is acceptable when it’s an older woman and a quarter back jock. If it was the head cheerleader and the coach I feel like it would be addressed with such light heartedness.

Another teacher
(it takes an alien invasion to bring hot teachers out of their shell, so that they can start completely inappropriate relationships with the high school hunk)

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