Horror and science fiction are not mutually exclusive genres. This is something that both casual and hardcore fans alike seem not to grasp, especially when it comes time to debate on of the oldest, most tired topics: whether or not Alien is a horror film. It’s something that’s been discussed and argued to death because neither side ever wants to admit that they are both right. It’s both science fiction and horror. It’s not the first to do so, either. Some of the best science fiction films of years past had strong horror elements, and vice versa.
While sci-fi horror was huge in the 1980’s, with remakes like The Thing, The Fly, The Blob and homages like Night of the Comet, Night of the Creeps, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and so many more, it had burned itself out by the time the 1990’s came along. Even on the video market, there were very few horror productions with a sci-fi element during the early years of that decade. To most people, the genre itself was on its last legs.
Scream reignited the mainstream audience’s love of horror. And that wasn’t solely specific to slasher films. It simply brought horror to a new generation, a new audience. For many young fans, it was their gateway into the genre. While movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend carried on the same tradition established in Scream, The Faculty brought something new to the table. Or rather, it did what Scream did: It took something old and made it new.
It’s a modernization of that same plot. There’s a lot less self-referencing in sci-fi features and they don’t center on teenage casts nearly as often as horror does, so to combine those elements into a mainstream production of this genre was a bit of a gamble. Luckily, it was one they managed to pull off.
Certainly one of the major strengths of The Faculty is screenwriter Kevin Williamson. If you’re going to try and capitalize on the success of Scream, you might as well get the guy that made it work in the first place. The decision to do Invasion of the Body Snatchers in a modern high school is something that would on paper make most people roll their eyes. But it’s actually brilliant. Every kid at one point has wondered if their teachers were really aliens. And in The Faculty, they’re right.
Williamson’s strength as a writer has always been that he balances out the meta with genuine characters. This is an incredible cast and each of them feels real. Each of them is going through some kind of change when the story begins, something that people in the story attribute to possible body-snatching, but is really nothing more than being in high school and figuring out who you really are. The Faculty breaks down the general idea that the outsider kids are the only ones going through something major or the only ones who feel ostracized. They are certainly more ostracized outwardly, but each one of these characters has an internalized struggle. Ultimately, be it horror or sci-fi, it’s a coming of age story more than anything else.
There’s an interesting bit of mythology to the sci-fi elements of the movie that make it stand out even more. Instead of everyone acting the same, the alien makes people act the opposite of the way they normally do. People who are usually calm are more aggressive and forceful, yet the coach who is always bordering on monstrous finally starts to act like a human being. More than that, there’s the fact that the aliens bear the most in common with The Puppet Masters, because that book came first and Invasion of the Body Snatchers simply stole the idea and changed a few things around.
Because this is a Kevin Williamson movie, there’s a great sense of mystery in addition to the fun and witty alien story as it unravels. There’s a Queen Bee at the head of this invasion and killing them means turning everyone back to normal. With that, you get the investigative element of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but in a sub-genre that usually doesn’t get that kind of element added into it. While it could easily feel forced, it just helps to make the feature stand out on its own.
Having that element also allows this Breakfast Club-inspired cast to stick together. They don’t really know each other that well, and what they see as they stick together challenges their perceptions of the people they see in the halls everyday. That’s something The Faculty definitely chooses to focus on. Everyone in high school has a perception of everyone else, something that goes beyond simply thinking “they’re a jock” or “they’re a nerd” but still doesn’t encapsulate who that person really is. Because you don’t actually know who they are until you get to know them. You only know what you see.
With that in mind, The Faculty is a great horror film about self-image and peer perception, one that subverts the tropes of the sci-fi genre at the same time and yet constantly manages to stay fresh. It’s one of the last great sci-fi horror movies. While time may tell if it will be topped soon, let’s hope that the recent surge of extraterrestrial horror means something will at least step up to the plate.