The Faculty (1998) – Robert Rodriguez (Dir.), Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Famke Janssen, Clea Duvall, Robert Partick, Bebe Neuwirth, Jon Stewart, Usher, Salma Hayek, OMG everybody
Apparently, Halloween is terrible for my personal growth, both the physical and the metaphysical. Every goddamn place has goddamn candy every goddamn where I goddamn go and I have to eat it. You know why? Because I have a soul, people. Also, the horror genre becomes required, repugnant viewing for the entirety of the October season. Thus more abject cinematic ass-sludge glosses across my gaze. All I can do is sigh and allow wave after wave of nonsensical plot twists, colon-based art direction, and massive blood-brazed breasts to wash over me. Yes, I was meant to watch The Blair Witch Project last night, according to the poll…but I decided to wait around to see it with my lady friend. Instead, I got trashed with a fellow lady-blogger (not that I’m a lady-blogger, that ‘fellow’ was only in reference to the ‘blogger’ part. I’m not insecure, I promise). Whilst in the throes of a madness brought about my mediocre Trader Joe’s wine, the Mark of the Maker and, of course, beer (the potatoes of alcohol, which are, in turn, the meat of vegetables – look it up), we scoured the ‘Horror’ tab of the Flix of Net. There, we discovered a gem, a time capsule if you will, an artifact from the nineties saved in pristine condition. Much like a mammoth dumb enough to stand in the same place long enough to be frozen and preserved like the asshole it is, we found this shiny little asshole glinting in the midst of genre-whorish nonsense. All we had to do was remember Josh Hartnett’s haircut and the decision to watch was unanimous.
Ah, the 90s. A simpler time. A gentler time. A time when all I had to worry about was good grades and not sticking my private parts in a blender (almost happened a surprising number of times). A time when girls had cooties and punches in the crotch were a commonplace condoned social activity. A time when Michael Bay could only boast The Rock and Bad Boys on his resume. A time of innocence. I wandered into The Faculty, not knowing my elbow from a specific area of my rectum and I was dazzled, enthralled, entranced, enraptured and enbiggened (I discovered the amazingness that is Famke Janssen…even when she has a decapitated squid-head). It was shiny, sweary, bloody, scary, pretty and goofy. Everything an 11-year-old could ever want. Does it hold up to the scrutiny of hindsight? Does it survive the test of time? Is it, in truth, a worthless collection of absurdities threaded together into a quilt of such horrifying incompetence that it literally causes momentary blood clots in the brain?
The answer might surprise you…but it probably won’t: This movie isn’t good.
BUT. And that’s a big ‘but’. Not like J-Lo big (you know, enough to have its own gravitational field) but maybe a Jessica Biel (shockingly large for a white girl with no talent). It ain’t that bad. This will take a lot of qualification. Let’s start at the beginning. This movie is about stars before they were famous doing things that they probably omit from their storied resumes. We have Josh Hartnett as the bad-boy genius drug-dealer wearing FAR too many t-shirts and sporting a haircut that, in silhouette, looks suspiciously like Daffy Duck’s behind (we later learned that ‘he cut it himself’ according to my lady-blogger’s far-too-Hartnett-informed friend. The 90s were a time of choices); there’s pre-Frodo Elijah “DOES THAT KID EVER AGE?” Wood as the nebbish newspaper photographer, Jordana “Why does her face look like it’s made of moldy clay?” Brewster as the hot one, Clea Duvall as the lesbian punk chick, some dude with pubic hair on his head as the jock, and the suspiciously new/naive/hot/apple-pie/oh-my-god-it’s-so-obvious-she’s-the-bad-guy girl. This rag-tag bunch of miscreants uncover a plot by the T-1000 (Robert “If He Were My Girlfriend’s Father I Would Jump Out a Window” Patrick) to infect the entirety of the school, Faculty first (eh? Eh? See what they did there?) with evil squid puppeteer monsters that turn the afflicted into invincible, serenely psychotic killing machines. It’s up to these idiots to find the queen (SPOILERS: it’s the new girl) and kill her with caffeine pills while classic rock songs of the 70s and 80s are cannibalized by Creed… Yes. Creed. Alice Cooper…by Creed. CREED! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? GODDAMN YOU! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL! (Not sure where that came from. I guess I have some unresolved issues with Creed. They are the Nickleback of Christian Rock…well all of Christian Rock is the Nickleback of Christian Rock. It has that je ne se pas…that sine qua non…that aurally-abortive quality we look for in all rage-inducing terribleness. *Shudder*).
So…on the surface, this is a fairly by-the-numbers vehicle for a star who crashed and burned with the rest of the US fleet after Pearl Harbor (too soon?). However, beneath the sheen of awful late-century soundtrack choices there’s a little more humming under the hood. This was the first real studio picture after the nonsense that was From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (side note: everyone see that movie. It is terrible, batshit insane and one of the most beautiful acts of cinematic defecation you will ever witness) by Mr. Robert “Bitch, Please” Rodriguez. For all of his ridiculousness of sophomoric inclinations, the man knows how to construct a movie. For science-fiction/horror, this thing has more characters and relationships than a Shakespearean Key-Party (Benedick would totes do all the ladies). We’ve got satire tip-tapping it’s sneaky little digits across the piano of human distress and bleakness that is made of disenfranchised teachers, each of them stripped of their humanity one by one. We have the intersection of high school social strata, from the jock wishing to be reevaluated for his intelligence to the nerd falling for the hot girl. All things considered, Rodriguez achieves something almost fascinating. What seems to shallow on the surface, subtly subverts expectation, both of character and theme, and attempts to use its frame of an Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers-equse tale to unearth some uncomfortable truths pertaining to totalitarianism, gender relations and their place in our education system.
So, beyond the ear-bleedingly terrible covers of great songs, what is going on here? We’ve got ‘Every-School-Ever’ in ‘Some-Town’ Ohio. Now, based on the choice of our villain being a water-based, shape-shifting, tentacle-flinging, ear-rapey squid monster, it’s odd that its selected target is an almost land-locked state in the middle of fucking nowhere (and I know this because I went to school there. If Samuel Beckett’s plays could be a state, they’d be Ohio. Or Indiana. Seriously.) Though nerds would contend that this would be a lapse in logic on the part of the nefarious Squidworth, it seems that the selection is one that sets you off. This is meant to be any school anywhere. This thing could have appeared in the middle of Seattle (and murdered some Twilight suckers) or Nevada (squid-hookers anyone?) and the end result would have been the same. As someone who is deathly afraid of any kind of mental-nomming invasion (be it zombie, infection, pod-people, spores or herpes) that shit gives me the willies! The willies, I tell you! In terms of the social commentary, we’ve got a few other minute threads caught in the Creed-tainted wind flittering about. Schools have no money. Teachers hate their jobs. Students hate school. Students and teachers have inappropriate relationships. PUBLIC SCHOOL IS MISERABLE. That is, until an overlord of the ‘ignorance is bliss’ ilk decides to give it a shot. And you know what? They look super happy! Suckin’ on their water bottles and vomiting parasites into ear-holes, they’re all just so content. It almost makes you question, is humanity really all that great? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just sacrifice ourselves to the placidity of a hive mind and relieve our lives of the burden of choice? Why can’t we all just become human batteries fueling a perpetual dream of awesome fight sequences with Hugo Weaving? I mean, come on, we are responsible for poverty, the collapse of public education, global warming, nuclear weapons, slavery and, of course, Creed. For the love of sweet baby Jesus, CREED.
Those odd musings aside, perhaps the must unsettling and perturbing element of this film involves a certain lifeless, talentless, goateed science teacher who gets his fingers removed with a paper cutter and his eye impaled with a caffeinated ball-point. Yes, that teacher is none other than Jon Fucking Stewart. It is so jarring, so unpleasant, so fucking strange to see him with facial hair that I felt the overwhelming liberal segment of my brain headdesk itself inside my own skull. It’s as though his evil twin had come through to this universe from one where Sarah Palin is president and Donald Trump’s antics go un-ridiculed to spread the malevolent nature of Jon Stewart’s acting career. Have you seen that guy try to say lines he hasn’t written? It’s like a stoned piece of wood deciding to play dead. It’s worse than Keanu Reeves. Consider that, plebs. The poor guy stumbles his way through scene after scene of not hosting his own show but rather saying words while pretending to be another human being who has a squid parasite living in his brain and making him invulnerable all Stepford Wife-ish. You know. ACTING. I love you Jon Stewart. I love how you make the political world made sense. You digest the swarming maelstroms of bovine crappery and distill it into a foul, yet funny, commentary on the disintegration of civil discourse and modern journalism. But please, please, PLEASE for the love of all that is good in the world: the birds, the bees, babies giggling and farting at the same time, dogs chasing their own tails and that one video about a gentleman not sure about the things going into his butt…never, never, NEVER act in anything ever again. God, it’s almost as bad as Creed.
CREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED! (Dramatic fist shake)