Revenge of the Pod People | The Nation


Revenge of the Pod People

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Nevertheless: An older version of alien invasion, involving tentacles, teeth and shape-shifting, still has its place on the screen. You can see it, updated for current demands, in The Faculty.

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Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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A more apt comparison would be between the surviving staff of the satirical magazine and the brave abortion providers who carried on after the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

Since the film was written by Kevin Williamson (best known for Scream), you may be assured the plot is not only traditional but self-reflexively so. At Herrington High School, somewhere in Ohio, are students deeply versed in the literature of extraterrestrial menace. They recognize what's happening when their elders turn podlike; they understand which story they're in. Hell, they can even distinguish between the better-known Jack Finney version and the Robert Heinlein original. Given an ounce more self-awareness, these kids might guess how their creator pitched The Faculty to Dimension Films: It's The Breakfast Club vs. the Body Snatchers.

But that novelty, however modest, is not the distinguishing feature of The Faculty. More significant, the film has imported into this genre the same pleasure in skepticism (or is it cynicism?) that's served by Virus's robotics.

In the past, when high school kids confronted evil (as in A Nightmare on Elm Street), their elders were callous, uncomprehending and useless--the usual flaws, from which your own parents and teachers used to suffer. But in The Faculty, everyday authority figures take on the heartless efficiency of the corporation in Alien. First you smile to see energy and purpose instilled into characters who previously were bumblers. Then you laugh, as the high school misfits learn to combat organized adulthood. Perhaps I won't spoil too much of the fun if I reveal one of their methods: In The Faculty, it's good to do drugs, and excellent to force them on your high school's principal.

So where's the shiver? It doesn't come during the icky parts. Directed and edited by Robert Rodriguez (whose last hit was the gloriously tacky From Dusk Till Dawn), The Faculty rejoices in its goriest, most grotesque scenes, which buoy you up with their exuberance. To achieve his high point of tension, Rodriguez resorts to other means: He gives you a scene where the only non-alien kids left in town make their escape from Herrington High by slowly walking down the hall and out to the parking lot. No tentacles, no teeth, no blood and certainly no robotics--just a little masterwork of suspense editing, which creates terror from nothing more than shots of ordinary faces.

It's as good a sequence as you can find to represent life in the present moment, when we're so pleased to be cynical and so ready to believe anything. We're the high school's perpetual misfits, but we're also the only "normal" ones left. They are part of an unbeatable conspiracy, but they're also a bunch of clowns. This is how we think today, with our news commentators droning on about popularity and "Mr. Hyde" keeping the faith and "Hope" still gleaming from a well-practiced smile--and all the while, robotic bombs are making their unmentionable, bloody marriage with human bodies we never see. Tell me it's all about sex. Tell me it's only a movie.

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