The Faculty

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That was fun! The Faculty is too brightly fast-paced to be scary, but it's an energetic, enthusiastic take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers (although one character traces the origins of Jack Finney's novel further back to a Heinlein novel, The Puppet Masters). To be honest, I prefer The Faculty's gimmicks to Finney's. The infection method makes more sense, their water dependency is cool and the silver bullet which kills them doesn't feel contrived. Unfortunately it also serves up that hoary old "kill the queen and they all die", but it says much that I'd built up enough goodwill to forgive even that.

Mind you, The Faculty probably owes more to The Thing than it does to any Body Snatchers movie. It even runs its own version of The Thing's blood-test scene, though the characters' handling of the situation looked pretty damn sloppy from where I was sitting. In that situation I'd be watching everything like a hawk, but only one of these six tests looked unambiguous!

Thematically it's a million miles from Carpenter's film. The Faculty wants to be about outsiders versus the in-crowd, conformity and the desire to belong. The alien even gets a speech to that effect. Our heroes are mostly outsiders - the new girl in town, the goth lesbian, the Stephen King nerd and the sardonic drug dealer. Even with the two popular characters, one of them has become disillusioned with being worshipped for his sporting talent and is turning his back on his former easy life. Occasionally the conformism becomes creepy (a throwaway glimpse of a class full of obedient, dutiful students is guaranteed to give you the shivers) but for the most part any such subtleties are overshadowed by sinister sports teachers, alien parasite infiltration and other such cheerful hokum.

But don't think I'm knocking cheerful hokum! Robert Patrick is lots of fun as the school's evil coach. The aliens aren't the usual emotionless pod people, but deliciously ironic squid-things who clearly love manipulating foolish humans. Meanwhile the un-possessed adults (e.g. Casey Connor's parents) are such wilful blockheads that they almost make you feel better towards the brain-suckers.

I liked the cast. The hero (Casey Connor) is played by Elijah Wood, currently Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings but he's been acting in movies since he was eight. The hairy-palmed brigade can drool over Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek and more, particularly the adorable Laura Harris. Her eventual state of undress will have you thumbing the pause button like a mad bastard. But most surprising was Piper Laurie as Mrs Karen Olson, the cuddly pod person. Remember her? Carrie's mum in Carrie? She's gained weight since 1976, though perhaps I might have recognised her more quickly if I'd also seen her 1993 turn in Dario Argento's Trauma.

It's a Kevin Williamson script, so naturally it's hip and self-aware. ("This is the point where someone normally says 'let's get the fuck out of here'," indeed!) There's a sci-fi buff who knows the genre conventions, while there's plenty of movie-speak language. According to the [ | imdb ], The Faculty [ | references ] The Wizard of Oz (1939), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Carrie (1976), Star Wars (1977), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Alien (1979), Prom Night (1980), Scanners (1981), Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Thing (1982), Blue Velvet (1986), The Hidden (1987), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Cape Fear (1991), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), "The X Files" (1993), Schindler's List (1993), "Party of Five" (1994), Stargate (1994), The Puppet Masters (1994), Independence Day (1996), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Men in Black (1997).

Did I mention the bizarre Terminator 2 connections? Most obviously Robert Patrick (Coach Joe Willis) came to fame as the T-1000 in Terminator 2. However in this movie Jon Stewart plays a biology teacher called Edward Furlong, which happens to be the name of the actor who played John Connor in T2. Did I mention that The Faculty's hero is called Connor? Hmmm.

Fortunately however this nonsense doesn't overshadow the sinister goings-on. The Faculty is lively, funny and always good to look at. The CGI is fun and appropriate, never under any illusions of looking convincing but instead going for eye candy and big wacky monsters. Its outcast loser heroes are better than the usual bland teens and the script always keeps things moving. It might not be particularly scary but it's thrilling and always good for a laugh. Recommended.

Reviewed by Finn Clark