The Kevin Williamson formula (rewrite familiar horror scenarios and have the characters note the familiarity) has gotten to be a bore, and in this case it makes no sense. In a story patterned after INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (though it stumbles closer to INVADERS FROM MARS), the characters surmise that films like MIB and ID4 were made by aliens as a form of disinformation to fool us from recognizing a real invasion; yet the characters end up using science-fiction films as a foolproof blueprint to defeat the aliens!
Still, the film is more interesting than the overrated SCREAM-fests. The high school setting, with the faculty gradually being taken over, actually works, because conformity and peer pressure are such a big part of the characters’ lives. The plot generates empathy and suspense as its outcast students band together to fight off the alien menace; their growing paranoia is nicely handled, and the litmus test (each proves he or she is still human by snorting caffeine) is a hoot. Most interesting is the idea that the people who have been snatched are actually improved by their condition: the hard-ass coach turns into an understanding guy; the mousy teacher (Janssen in a stunning piece of Jekyll-Hyde work) turns into a self-confident vamp.
Unfortunately, the potential in this idea is never realized, because the filmmakers do not trust it to hold our interest; instead, they pander to their target teen audience with copious computer effects, plus gratuitous and gory stalk-and-slash scenes. Question: Why does the football coach (Patrick) drive a pencil into the hand of the principal (Neuwirth), when the aliens want to snatch bodies, not slash them? Answer: Because the film needed a shocking image in opening reel! It is hard to feel frightened by the temptation of the alien’s promise of blissful conformity when we see evil pod people slashing their victims to death.
Director Rodriguez is as much to blame for this: a fine action specialist, he has the most fun when all hell breaks loose; a long, slow, suspenseful buildup just is not what interests him. Still, he keeps things lively, even when they get silly: the film ends with a romantic kiss between the geek and the head cheerleader (easily the most unbelievable image in the movie – far more so than the squid-shaped true form of the aliens), followed by a closing montage of the cast showing all the pod people back to normal – even those who were shot, decapitated, and stabbed in they eye!
THE FACULTY(Dimension Films, 1998). Director: Robert Rodriguez. Writer: Kevin Williamson. 101 mins. R. Cast: Elijah Wood, Laura Harris, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Salma Hayek.
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