The Final Girls Club is a bi-weekly column. It aims to take an analytical and retrospective look at female-led horror cinema and how these films hold up in the context of current issues surrounding gender, sexuality and politics.
With the premise of Invasion of The Body Snatchers, the setting of The Breakfast Club and a rushed production in the hopes of catching some of the post-Scream hype at the box office, Robert Rodriguez’ The Faculty is a Frankenstein film even by his own oeuvre’s standards. While the film delivers on its promise of campy fun —at one point, the kids have to do drugs as proof they haven’t been possessed by the alien hive-mind— The Faculty is pretty bloodless compared to other films of the decade. An attempt to re-calibrate the pithy genre awareness of the late nineties for science fiction rather than horror, its characters may talk about The X Files and Aliens, but it’s difficult to see the influence of either on its female characters.
With Kevin Williamson as a screenwriter (as well as developing the screenplay for Scream, he’s credited with the creation of Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries), the teen line-up almost feels like a tick box exercise. We have ice queen Delilah (Jordana Brewster), girl-next-door Marybeth (Laura Harris) and goth Stokely (Clea Duvall). Surprisingly, it is outsider Stokely who gets most screen time, a friendship between her and new girl Marybeth blossoming before it all gets a bit Mean Girls. “I hope you’re not a violent lesbian like your new found friend here?” Delilah sneers. Is Stokely to a be a weird girl who’s actually gay, rather than being just coded as such in the vein of Janis Ian, or Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You? In what is framed as an edgy twist, it’s revealed she uses the identity of ‘lesbian’ as a way of getting the other kids to leave her alone: an anti-bullying tactic that many viewers may find laughable.
Stokely may not be a lesbian, but she’s still a freak. “I always thought the only alien in this high school was me,” she bemoans, a sentiment shared by the film’s fellow losers, Marybeth and geek Casey (Elijah Wood). Even the popular kids explore the uncomfortable distance between who they should be and who they are: like her character’s inspiration, Cordelia Chase, Delilah works to hide her intellect and her vulnerability. It’s not a unique idea— the alienating experience of being a teenager is also explored in the 1999 TV series Roswell— but it’s definitely aided by the high school setting.
The mask of ‘lesbian’ allows Stokely to repress her attraction to jock-with-principles Stan (Shawn Hatosy), adding to The Faculty’s overall lack of sexual urgency. Despite their relative hotness, our teenage protagonists are surprisingly chaste, at most sharing a couple of close-mouthed kisses. In contrast to this, the possessed adults of The Faculty represent a genuine sexual threat, particularly through the archetypal Football Coach (Robert Patrick). “Harassment has a really fine line, Coach,” says Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth), cornered in the darkened school in the film’s opening sequence.
Although Coach Willis is a recognisable predator— pinning Nurse Harper (Salma Hayek) to the ground and physically intimidating boyish Casey— the sexual threat of The Faculty is not solely perpetuated by its male characters. Under alien influence, Delilah becomes a succubus. “You know you want me, Casey…let’s do it together,” she says, using his poorly hidden crush against him to humiliating and terrifying effect. Mirroring Delilah’s earlier miniskirt look, bookish Miss Burke (Famke Janssen) similarly turns Miss Robinson when possessed, threatening bad boy Zeke (Josh Hartnett). Teachers, The Faculty suggests, have the same urges as their students, they’re just better at hiding it.
The sexual threat of authority figures is a relevant topic and the premise of The Faculty allows it to be explored more fully than other teen horrors. The more the school is invaded, the more the staff and students conform to ideals of productivity. The faculty room, previously a smoke-filled den of human failure, is filled with bottled water and clean fruit bowls; the students raise their hands in unison; the alien hoard turns up to cheer on the football team. All-American wholesomeness hides the evil within, as the teachers, the police and their parents all converge to collectively gaslight our heroes. Their peril is real— not because they’re fighting aliens, but because they’re fighting adults.
Overall, the film’s sloppy anti-conformity message is hypocritical even by Hollywood standards: besides Hayek, the only character of colour is the school bully who barely speaks, despite actor Usher Raymond’s (yes, that Usher) prominent spot in the promotion. By the finale, Stokely has swapped attitude and eyeliner for floral pastels and a hot boyfriend, while previously ambitious Delilah cosies up with Casey, happy to be his sidekick. Our alien queen, a planet-less outcast with whom we might have sympathised, is simply evil and to be eviscerated. Though the student body is no longer possessed by aliens, they are subscribing to a different hive-mind—one which The Faculty isn’t ultimately interested in overthrowing.
by Suki Hollywood
(She/her) Born on Valentine’s Day in Belfast, Suki Hollywood is a pop culture junkie first, a writer second. Raised on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, her favourite films include Moonlight and The Wizard of Oz, but truth be told, television is where her heart lies. A graduate of The University of Glasgow, she has contributed editorially to Knight Errant Press and had her creative work featured in publications such as From Glasgow to Saturn and clavmag. Find her at sukihollywood.com or @miz.possible on Instagram.
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