A group of teenage school stereotypes find that their teachers are aliens that drain humans dry to live. As the alien epidemic spreads, so does the paranoia, which leaves the teens believing the monster-maker could be close in their midst.
Pitching a concept so high - Invasion Of The Body Snatchers meets John Hughes' back catalogue - it needs clearance in international airspace, this mind meld between guerrilla godhead Robert Rodriguez (Desperado/From Dusk Till Dawn) and slasher sultan Kevin Williamson (Scream) cannily proffers double-barrelled entertainment; for the current Clearasil set, this is simply attractive eye candy fending off numerous schlock tactics; for anyone old enough to fondly remember Anthony Michael Hall, however, The Faculty becomes a blatant mixture of affectionate teen satire and sci-fi cliché that enjoyably reinforces how much you know about movies.
The plotting zeroes in on a group of school stereotypes - egghead Casey (Wood), black clad misfit Stokely (Duvall), wise-ass drug pusher Zeke (pin-up boy in waiting Hartnett), student mag ed Delilah (Jordana Brewster), doubting jock Stan (Shawn Hatosy) and Southern belle new gal Mary Beth (Laura Harris) - who discover the teaching staff in their run down high school have been taken over by squid-like alien parasites that drain humans dry to live. As the epidemic spreads into other students, family, the police, Rodriguez tangibly builds up the growing paranoia (in a fantastic comedic replay of The Thing's blood test scene, the teens snort homemade nose candy to flush out the alien host), before piling on bizarro gore (punctured eyeballs, skin crawling worms, heads sprouting legs, gallons of pus) as the group discovers that the producer of the morphing monsters could come from within their number.
Despite never delivering on the promise engendered by the Rodriguez-Williamson pairing, this is corny, queasy, quick-witted fun. All the teens turn in engaging, likeable performances with Duvall and Hartnett emerging as standouts. Equally entertaining are the adroitly cast adults; Rodriguez fave Salma Hayek (throwing off the sex bomb mantle to assay a flu-stricken nurse), Robert Patrick (playing hardnut football coach) and Famke Janssen (turning heads as a predatory English teacher) all have gleeful fun as the shapeshifting educators.
The showy staples of Williamson's writing still shine through - the youngsters' familiarity with the movie rules of engagement, up-to-the-minute injokery (Zeke peddles nude video tapes of Jennifer Love Hewitt and Neve Campbell), the confidence in the audience's cine-knowledge to supplant characterisation and story detail - yet the plotting and placing lacks the assurity, invention and momentum to deliver the requisite adrenaline rush. Moreover, never really nailing the correct mix of irony and horror, Rodriguez's direction is devoid of its usual full-on fizz and manic excess. Perhaps surprisingly, he seems very much at home with the adolescent comedy aspects - the High School hierarchies and teen torments are knowingly etched, the dispirit in the underfunded establishment is humorously spot on. But he is less comfortable with the action, and is over-reliant on big CGI set pieces. For a film that should have detailed the ultimate in teen rebellion, perhaps what's missing is a real sense of anarchy.
For a film that should have detailed the ultimate in teen rebellion, perhaps what's missing is a real sense of anarchy.