Dir: Robert rodriguez
Gen: FROM WAR TO PEACE:ALIENS IN THE LAST 50 YEARS OF CINEMA
The teen film market is a strong one, and before discovering cars, alcohol, sex and drugs, the cinema is often the preferred place to spend time. So it is to be expected that the red hot teen film industry of the late 90’s would look to the extraterrestrial world to keep things interesting in a saturated market.
At some point or another every child has thought a certain teacher is out to get them. Director Robert Rodriguez and writer Kevin Williamson take this idea to another level as a few high school students find the staff at their school a little more than just out of touch with the youth.
Caught somewhere between an angsty teen drama and an alien invasion, The Faculty is a massively referential piece of cinema, drawing influences from classic horror, sci-fi, the works of John Hughes, contemporary grunge and broader 90’s pop culture. Starring a young Elijah Wood alongside Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy, Clea DuVall and Laura Harris. In short - the geek, the slacker, the cheerleader, the jock, the goth and the new girl, all taking centre stage in a tribal high school setting. The divide between the students, their teachers and their parents suit the genre to a tee and create a natural air of tension that is relatable to the audience, if a little bit out of the norm for science fiction.
The film itself is overtly aimed at the teenage market, released on Christmas Day with the added star power appeal of R&B artist Usher playing a supporting role. The audience isn't so much as to believe in the characters as to relate with them. Each filling a demographic expected to pay their way into the cinema over the holiday season, all of whom want to see a version of themselves on-screen saving the day. The ensemble find themselves together as a result of consequence rather than choice, drawing many comparisons to The Breakfast Club, alongside regular allusions to other films including a Stepford Wives-esque routine from the school staff and scenes lifted directly from John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The plot is very reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1954) as school paper photographer Casey (Wood) discovers an unusual parasitic creature and uncovers an alien assimilation in progress in their small town, led by the faculty of their high school. Basing the story so wholly on an existing source might initially seem like an uninspired idea. But when you consider the target demographic are unlikely to have seen Body Snatchers it actually makes a lot of sense. You can be as referential to classic sci-fi as you want because it’s all new to your audience. Forget about what has or hasn’t been done before in cinema and have them see everything through your film first. Cliches and stereotypes are always going to have a blunter edge on a younger crowd and The Faculty is not a film made to be appreciated by anyone else.
The alien uses the cliques and social circles of the school to spread like wildfire, most significantly through the school football team. The whole town are set to meet and watch the big game against rival town Brun County, which the teens speculate as the point of no return for the town - and humanity. The rest of the story writes itself, touching on everything that teenagers relate to along the way. Popularity, sexuality, experimenting with drugs, college prospects, commitment to sports teams, teacher crushes, misunderstanding parents and self-identity.
There isn’t a prominent score as such, though veteran horror composer Marco Beltrami did study under Jerry Goldsmith (Alien). Instead Rodriguez has mostly favoured contemporary popular music to set the scene. Including a cover of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in The Wall - a timeless song about conformity which sums up the film - older ideas reworked for a younger audience.
In terms of production and origin it was very much a product of its time which was a bit of a one man show. Writer Kevin Williamson wrote many other contemporary teen horrors like Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Scream 2 (1997), as well as creating Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003), the hit TV show that drove the massive demand for ensemble teen media the likes of the American Pie, Final Destination and Scary Movie franchises would later come to epitomise.
WIthin the context of Rodriguez’ career, The Faculty is a stop gap of sorts. While many of his films are both unusual and acclaimed, such as Once Upon a Time in Mexico or the Spy Kids series, The Faculty is not one of them. With its stereotypes and paper thin characters aging very poorly, it wasn’t particularly well regarded at the time and would probably struggle even more so now. Within a relatively short space of time the hyper-current music and fashion quickly became very dated and much of the dialogue bounces between the antithesis of the Bechdel Test or just straight up cringeworthy.
When boiled down to its purpose and justification, The Faculty is cashing in on a movement by throwing two genres at each other - teen drama and alien invasion, and seeing what sticks. Inspired by a plethora of different films and genres, it is lesser than the sum of its classically inspired parts would suggest, but still a fun ride, a time capsule for what was hot at the time and in many ways a marker for how far teen dramas have come since.
An unlikely crowd: the jock, the new girl, the slacker, the cheerleader, the goth and the geek.
Where to watch
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Euan is the editor of Wrap Party Media, contributor at Discovery Music, freelance writer, and popular on instagram as @cinematographersparty. He’s examining alien cinema for his love of science fiction and to track the innovation of the last 50 years within the genre. His other writings can be found at https://wrappartymedia.com/author/euanfoley/
ABOUT NEON EYE
Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.