Director Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn) makes good, action-packed flicks. Writer Kevin Williamson (Scream) writes great horror scripts with a teenage slant. Pairing the two on a single project, as The Faculty does, is like a Dimension Films dream-come-true, and the end result, though falling short of each man's individual work, ertainly does make for an entertaining movie.
The story of The Faculty surrounds a group of kids from different walks of life who discover an alien species is taking over their school. In itself, that's a great premise for a teenage sci-fi flick, but producers really hit the mark by bringing director Rodriguez and screenwriter Williamson aboard. Rodriguez's top-notch camerawork and editing are on display here, as are Williamson's quick-tongued teenage comebacks and categorical genre references, and it all comes together to create an hour-and-a-half-long good time.
Williamson's script (from an original story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel) takes the theme of high school alienation and runs with it, turning a simple sci-fi/action flick into The Breakfast Club with aliens. The main characters each represent the usual social groups: the jock, the cheerleader, the goth girl, the geek, the new girl, and the rebel. As with a lot of post-modern high school films, each of the conventional characters has a twist that serves to separate them from their perspective packs. The star quarterback has serious academic aspirations. The drug-dealing rebellious slacker is actually brilliant.
A notable thing - and a trademark of many Williamson-led movies of late - is Marco Beltrami's score. While his contribution to Halloween: H pretty much killed all of the non-visual atmosphere in its tired construction, here Beltrami seems to have taken a genius turn in what is an undeniably creepy and ambience-filled score. From the chilling violin orchestrations apparent in the opening scene, to the undeniably eerie cello-based chords in a scene in which the school kids find themselves being watched as they walk through the school grounds, Beltrami's score simply drips with style and adds a great deal to the film.
The action in the film (of which there is a great deal) is handled quite well by Rodriguez, who gives the movie a sense of spiced-up cartoon-like exaggeration -- particularly in the film's big football game near the conclusion. Put in the hands of another, more reserved director, The Faculty might have come out looking much different. Rodriguez has a distinctly madcap style to his films, and that style lends itself nicely to this story of a secret alien takeover, keeping you interested in spots where you might be otherwise bored. Standing alone, Williamson's script or Rodriguez's direction might not have carried the story, but combined the two work out very well.
That said, The Faculty does have its short-comings; small, minor details sprinkled throughout the picture that unfortunately drag it down. While the characters are purposely distinct from their various social confines, much of that distinction seems very forced, trite; almost anti-cliched to the point becoming cliched all over again. With seemingly too many characters to develop in too small an amount of time, much of the characterization is delivered in some really irritatingly 'hip' dialogue, ranging from the goth girl's assertion that her rumored lesbianism is just a cover to keep other people away to the drug-dealing underachiever's admission, 'I'm a contradiction.' The cast portraying these characters is unbalanced, with dead-on performances by some (Elijah Wood), amusingly overdone by others (Robert Patrick), but the majority failing to be much more than warm bodies on the screen.
It's also necessary to note how overtly derivative much of The Faculty is. The basic premise, and even whole scenes, seem to be lifted straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter's The Thing. While the script acknowledges these similarities through self-referential conversations between two of the characters, that doesn't quite make up for the lack of creativity.
Still, despite these detractions, there is a lot to be enjoyed in The Faculty. Most of the action is great, and elements of the drama surrounding the high school caste system are excellent (particularly the way in which Williamson manages to convey the sense of dread some feel being forced to attend a place that they perceive as dangerous). The premise of a high school taken over by aliens is a goldmine for a film, and problems aside, Williamson and Rodriguez handle it very well.
Perhaps expectations regarding a Robert Rodriguez/Kevin Williamson project are just too high, as The Faculty fails to reach the heights of either man's singular contributions to the horror genre. Regardless, The Faculty is quite enjoyable, a clever and post-modern (if somewhat TOO clever and post-modern) take on the idea of aliens slowly taking control of a small town's inhabitants.