Words by Benjamin Pinsent
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
I am putting in a spoiler free version of this review before we get into the nitty gritty of the film. The film comes highly recommended with some great ideas, well acted scenes, some really funny dialogue and “oh it’s them” moments while watching the film and checking out the crew credits. So watch it and come back to the review.
Right now let’s get started:
High school. We all know what it is, even though we never went (unless you did). England has mostly secondary schools, but due to countless movies and tv shows concerned with high school we can all recognise the clichés. We know the cliques the bullying, the sport and anything else that revolves around attending an establishment tied to the American education system.
The 90’s were rampant with these types of films, from setting classical literature in high school like ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (1999)and ‘Clueless’ (1995), to Joss Weden’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1997). ‘The Faculty’ (1998)is one of those hidden gems that filed out with the rest of the high school craze, hidden amongst the imitators and the bad. But this is probably one the best high school films of the 1990’s.
The film is based around a group of outsiders: a nerd Casey (Elijah Wood), a burn out drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett), a goth Stokes (Clea Duvall), a Jock who quits the football team to focus on his studies, his girl friend and a transfer student, establishing early each character’s status and role in the high school.
However when Casey notices a new species of parasite in the field and that the school faculty start to act weird he deduces that the parasite is an alien race come to earth to take over the planet. The only way to destroy the alien is through the drugs made by Zeke.
It appears on the surface to be another alien invasion/body snatcher film, but it is actually a criticism on the high school class system. The film shows this by using an alien thing that does damage by separating and dividing. The fact that each of the main character represents a different facet of high school life is key. It also promotes the idea of youthful rebellion: the main weapon against the aliens is homemade coke.
The film is a well acted piece the tension at the beginning of the film is amazing as people notice that others are acting weird. In fact it is a well made film that seems to raise up those who live lower down the high school food chain. Stand outs have to be Wood, Hartnett and Laura Harris as the transfer student with a little secret.
That is not to mention all the star talent that went in the film, other than the students were Jon Stewart and Selma Hayak as the Nurse who is always ill. A mention must go to the T2 himself Robert Patrick as the down right creepy football Coach Joe Williams. Robert Rodriguez helmed the project written by Kevin Williamson, the man who wrote meta horror Scream.
There is a problem with the film that not only almost ruins the entire experience but also contradicts the themes of the movie. Over the course of the movie we follow the characters who appear to be comfortable with their differences, it is what saved them from the parasite at the start.
Yet at the end, after the monster is defeated, we learn that they are now part of the school social system that they where so happy to be exempt from: Zeke is a football player, Stokes is dating a jock and Casey is part of the elite. It is an ending that lets down what is an entertaining film that starts as a celebration of those on the sidelines of school life.
I would still watch the film again and again, because apart from the ending, it is a great ride, that really encapsulates the meaning of being an outsider, all be it one that deals with an invasion of alien parasites.