Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Retro Review: The Faculty

 So, interesting tidbit about The Faculty - I completely misjudged when this came out. If you asked the Cap'n when I thought I saw this movie, I would have leaned summer of 97 (15 year anniversary!) or maybe early spring of the following year, but December of 1998? Really? That's just odd, and not because The Faculty is more of a late summer / fall kind of movie (it's like the reverse of Batman Returns, a winter-themed film released in the summer of 1992). Most people are out of school by December, and The Faculty is very much a "high school" kind of movie.

 In fact, it's a distant cousin of the post-Scream "teenagers in peril" self conscious horror subgenre that was all the rage until remakes of Japanese horror films became all the rage. Just like I was wrong about when it came out, so too am I surprised by two things: 1) that it came out AFTER Disturbing Behavior and 2) that Disturbing Behavior was released in July of 1998, because I saw it with two people I only thought I spent time with in high school. Weird. But this is not exactly about Disturbing Behavior.

 So why, do you ask, did I even bring up Disturbing Behavior, a movie that many of you are struggling to remember if you saw or not? Because when I put on The Faculty, the first thing that l realized after a long time away from the film is that its soundtrack leaned heavily on the "alterna-pop" of the day (Disturbing Behavior will always be linked with Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" in my mind, but imagine my surprise that The Faculty opens with The Offspring's "The Kids Aren't Alright," a song I'd totally forgotten about). Not exactly a promising start, huh?

 Well, there's a pretty good reason that I'd forgotten about the musical accompaniment for The Faculty, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Williamson's "high school John Carpenter's The Thing." When we went to see it at The Studio - the long gone shoebox dual theatre in Raleigh where the young Cap'n saw Trainspotting and Trees Lounge - the transition from trailers to actual movie was so abrupt that we didn't actually realize the film had begun and it wasn't just some trailer about Robert Patrick as an irate football coach. In fact, jokes were made and we were genuinely caught off-guard when Patrick started yelling at Shawn Hatosy and Usher Raymond, making his (much hyped) cinematic debut. Oh, this IS The Faculty. Wild!

 So The Faculty is a pretty good (not great) version of the "movie trope literate teens who find themselves in ____ genre situation," in this case an alien invasion from creatures who need lots and lots of water and who can infect humans and control their bodies. Eventually it becomes a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, including a scene where they use a drug to prove who is and isn't human. Then there's a showdown between one of the heroes (I won't give it away just in case you haven't seen it) and the alien and everything goes back to normal. Oh, SPOILER. Then there's a kinda Breakfast Club "we learned to overcome out high school social castes and work together to fight aliens" but nobody gets a nose ring ripped out like in Disturbing Behavior*.

 On the Robert Rodriguez-o-meter, The Faculty rates well below El Mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City, Machete, or Planet Terror, but probably slightly above Spy Kids 3D. Maybe on par with Spy Kids and Spy Kids 2, but not in the same league as From Dusk Till Dawn, it's rough contemporary in the "making a movie like the ones he used to watch" Rodriguez filmography. Comparatively speaking, it's probably really high up on the Kevin Williamson-o-meter, right below Scream but waaaaaaay above Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4, and Teaching Mrs. Tingle.

 Also of note is the high ratio of people you kind-of knew in 1998 but definitely know now. There's Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings, Wilfred), Jordana Brewster (Fast Five), Clea DuVall (Canivale, Zodiac), Laura Harris (Dead Like Me), Josh Hartnett (30 Days of Night), Shawn Hatosy (Southland, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), Famke Janssen (X2, Taken), Jon Stewart (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Death to Smoochy), plus distinguished guest stars Piper Laurie (Carrie), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers), Salma Hayek (From Dusk Till Dawn), Robert Patrick (Terminator 2), Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore), Daniel von Bargen (O Brother, Where Art Thou), and uh, Harry Knowles (Ain't It Cool News). Also in cameos, Danny Masterson (That 70s Show) and Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused). It's like a who's who of "huh, they were in this movie?"

 Well, so The Faculty isn't exactly a classic, but it's enjoyable enough considering other movies like it that populate theatres from 1997-2001 (when Valentine functionally killed the subgenre**) and we had fun when we saw it. While I can't remember correctly when I saw The Faculty, I certainly recall who I saw it with, because when leaving The Studio one friend announced to another that his car was being towed, which was a bad joke. For some reason, it's the first (and almost only) thing one says to the other when they see each other, even though it's really not funny nearly 14 years later.

 So in closing, happy fifteenth anniversary to Face/Off. You were a ridiculous movie.

 * The only other thing I remember about Disturbing Behavior. Seriously, that movie sucked.
** And NOT Urban Legend: Final Cut. That movie rules.

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