The Faculty: teen angst, budding high-school romance – and evil alien parasites

90s schlock-horror starring Josh Hartnett and Elijah Wood is worth a rewatch if only for the terrible 3D graphics and before-they-were-famous teen idols

While many American teen movies in the late 1990s dealt with important issues, such as popularity, breakups, drama at prom, and defending the things you love at the risk of losing your credibility, The Faculty took things up a notch and asked: what if extra-terrestrial parasites wormed their way into your high school, and tried to take over the neighbourhood?

It’s a reasonable problem to have on the cusp of adulthood. Released on Christmas Day in 1998, this gleeful mash-up up of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Breakfast Club follows six teens – a clever drug dealer; an ambitious popular girl; a mousy new-in-town blonde; a shy geek photographer; a moody Goth and a fed-up football jock – as they witness several members of their school’s teaching staff turn into eerily polite, bloodthirsty aliens. 

Cue the most awkward, laborious after-school group assignment of all: saving everyone you know and love from an untimely, painful parasitic death by putting aside your differences, shuffling into the science lab and not being afraid to get covered in slime.

Teenagers in a car looking at something
The Faculty: scary-stupid viewing fun. Photograph: Allstar/Dimension

People in suburban Ohio don’t seem to catch on too quickly, though – it takes maybe 20 minutes into the film for one of the kids to realise something’s a bit off. The audience, however, is treated to a spooky eight-minute opening sequence that involves an after-hours staff meeting on a disappointing funding outcome and a gory mishap with the school principal (she shows up later in the film, of course, but isn’t ... herself). 

The film also boasts an excellent cast of before-they-got-famous teen idols, including Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, and Clea DuVall. Salma Hayek also makes a cameo as the burned-out school nurse, Jon Stewart plays a doesn’t-know-any-better-or-does-he science teacher, and Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 fame is the aggro-turned-creepily-calm football coach. 

The Faculty is scary-stupid kind of viewing fun. Spine-tingling enough – with its unapologetic and frequent tentacles, blood, guts and peeling flesh – to mess with you, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny: including 3D graphics that haven’t aged well, such as sliced-off fingers that scurry unconvincingly across the floor, so it’s pretty difficult to get too invested in the doom and gloom. 

Elijah Wood on the floor yelling and reaching towards an unseen enemy
The Faculty was an unapologetic rip-off of the many films that came before it. Photograph: Allstar/Dimension

Watching it for the first time alone as a kid who’d been forbidden from watching the original X-Files series felt scandalous: it was R-rated; depicted home-made drugs (that were designed to “bring out” the parasite hiding in a potential body); and shaped my early ideas around following your instincts when something felt extremely off, even if – especially if – the nearest authority figure breezily dismissed anything unsettling. 

The movie was an unapologetic rip-off of the many films that came before it that defined the sci-fi and horror genres – The Shining, The Thing, even a little sprinkling of the original The Stepford Wives – and yet it didn’t feel counterfeit. 

The joy of The Faculty, more than 20 years on, is its irreverent, quippy, morally bereft story that shows us if the world is ending, following the rules isn’t going to save the day. Believing in science (even the DIY garage lab variety), being proactive and standing up to your resident alien queen is a far more sensible bet. 

The Faculty is currently streaming on Stan

Contributor

Nathania Gilson

The GuardianTramp

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