PERHAPS IT'S ANOTHER indication of our end-of-the-millennium degeneracy, but one of the best surprises of this holiday movie season turns out to be an old chestnut: a horror flick that trashes authority figures. Kevin Williamson, the Midas-touch screenwriter behind teen thrillers Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the TV teen soap Dawson's Creek, has come up with a winning premise in The Faculty. His tale of students at Herrington High discovering that their teachers are aliens is great tongue-in-cheek fun that appeals to the inner teen in all of us.
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High school in this middle-class, woodsy Ohio setting is a war zone. During the first few minutes of the movie, the small, nerdy boy (Elijah Wood) is pushed into the flag pole and two cars crash in the parking lot with the girl drivers getting out of their cars and into a fistfight. The Herrington teachers are painted as the students see them—as a motley collection of losers. Except for one likable science teacher, the staff members either don't know how to teach or just plain don't care. There is the nurse who saves her sick days for when she's feeling well, the drunk social studies teacher who sneaks whiskey into his coffee, and the archetypal coach who throws temper tantrums on the football field. The beautiful but acrid principal (Bebe Neuwirth) struts around in a micro-mini suit and black heels—a dominatrix given to mercilessly cutting funds for new musicals and new computers. (Neuwirth hasn't been this sharp since her role in Cheers as Lilith Stern.)
Borrowing from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Williamson has the teachers being overtaken by unknown alien forces.
Like the '80s teen classic The Breakfast Club, the kids who save the day are types that normally wouldn't be caught dead sharing a cafeteria table. Along with the nerd, there's the beautiful bitchy cheerleader (Jordana Brewster); her jock boyfriend (Shawn Hatosy); a gothic, black-clad suspected lesbian (Clea DuVall); a new-in-town Southern belle (Laura Harris); and Zeke, a troublemaker genius (Josh Hartnett). The stereotyping manages to work because it is comically rendered. The jock decides to renounce his status for more honorable academic aims: "That was my D. I worked hard for that D," he tells another student. The Southern girl is all sweetness and light, urging the dark DuVall to "fly free, be a lesbian." When the drug-peddling Zeke kisses the sweet thing in a storage room, he says, "I'm just doing my part to deconstruct America." And it turns out to be Zeke's home-brewed scat—a cocaine-like mixture that causes instant euphoria—that kills off the aliens and saves the world. With such ironic nods and winks to correctness, it's no wonder Williamson is at the head of his class these days.