Somehow, you?ve always known it would come down to this: High school kids will have to save the world.
It?ll be up to the youth, the shining future of America, to save our conformist hides from the monsters. It?s inevitable, in a way; it?s the end product of all the youth-is-king rhetoric that Hollywood continuously shoves down our throats.
It?s also the premise of The Faculty, the new teen slasher/sci-fi thriller from Scream Ã¼berscribe Kevin Williamson and eclectic schlockmeister Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn).
But within what could have been a framework for hackneyed scares, a one-twist plot and another brick in the ?Cask of Amontillado? wall Hollywood builds around itself, Williamson and Rodriguez have somehow fashioned a mobile, slick film. Sure, it?s a 100-minute commercial for Tommy Hilfiger (whose clothes are in the film so much you?d think they were the school uniforms) and L.A. Looks hair gel, but it?s also a fairly clever sci-fi potboiler with a psychological hook that?s irresistible.
In fact, The Faculty works better as a paranoia thriller than a slasher movie, and that?s what sets it apart in this rapidly decaying genre. Williamson has toned down the overreaching, high-school-kids-don?t-talk-like-that byplay that took much of the bite out of Scream?s thrills and instead concentrated on the story?s cerebral aspects. It?s different, and it?s better.
Of course, there are still yelps galore in The Faculty, and enough buckets of blood to do Wes Craven proud. The film starts with a Scream-style prologue in which Bebe Neuwirth gets butchered like a hog (a welcome end for everybody who?s seen Cheers) by two teachers possessed by a mysterious power.
Soon, child-star-who-still-can?t-grow-facial-hair Elijah Wood, playing a dweeb named Casey (?You?re the geeky Stephen King kid,? a character tells him. ?There?s one in every school.?), discovers a creepy finger-sized seahorse-looking creature on the school?s football field. Later, he accidentally sees the same two teachers knock off the school nurse.
Through his remarkable powers of deduction (and a few script holes that should have been filled), Casey decides the mysterious goings-on at the school have alien roots. He and the requisite ragtag bunch of misfits (the really hot head cheerleader, the really hot captain of the football team, the really hot drug dealer, the really hot rebellious girl who wears too much eye shadow and the really hot new girl in school?isn?t it nice to know that beauty does, after all, equal virtue?) decide they have to stop this alien invasion before it conquers Ohio and starts a war with Canada.
We learn the aliens can replicate themselves, and they move into new victims by sticking their tongues into people?s ears. Of course, this being high school, tongues in ears are pretty standard dating practices, so the studentbody is rapidly turning to the dark side. It?s up to our Tommy Girls and Tommy Boys to turn the tide.
The cast is strong among both students and teachers, none of whom forgets the essential silliness of the film?s premise. Robert Patrick is pure glowering menace with his spot-on portrayal of a football coach gone alien, while the increasingly brilliant Famke Janssen turns heads in a faculty part that?s little more than a cameo. Even Daily Show heir apparent Jon Stewart makes a campy appearance as a biology teacher who gets something in his eye.
Cameos abound, from Janssen to Christopher McDonald as Wood?s father, to Internet movie guru Harry Knowles, the grotesquely fat guy behind the Ain?t It Cool News website.
Clea DuVall is the strongest of the students as Stokely, the really hot rebellious girl (she also may be the first white girl in film history to be named after a black activist). Her sandpapery voice is a nice counterpoint to Wood?s squeak. Wood himself is surprisingly strong in a simple part; he?s all tension and dread, constantly looking over his shoulder.
Williamson has actually created a clever variation on the Three O?Clock High theme of so many ?80s teen comedies and Schoolbreak Specials: A kid doesn?t want to go to school because he?s going to get killed. In this case, he?s absolutely right?and they want to do a great deal more than kill him.
More than anything, The Faculty must be applauded for taking a rote situation in two tired genres and trying something different. From Urban Legend to I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, we?ve been deluged this fall with Scream imitators who understood gore but little else. Suspend a little disbelief, and The Faculty will keep you entertained.