The Faculty

This one is The Invasion of the BEd Snatchers, as teachers one by one seem to be transforming weirdly at Ohio’s Herrington High.

The Faculty¬†teachers have had their mental faculties altered by a malevolent force that’s coming for the students, “hey, teachers leave those kids alone.”

The school’s resident nerd, Casey (elfin cerulean-eyed Elijah Wood) finds a pelagic slug far from where its home should be in this, a land-locked state. He brings it to the science teacher, Mr Furlong (Jon Stewart) and before you know it, the thing sprouts weird tendrils before biting the biologist and rolling the narrative ball downhill.

Herrington is all Breakfast Clubbed when it comes to cliques, with teen dynamics any demographic will recognize. The Faculty wisely invests in its disparate cast(e): the criminal, jock, new girl, Goth, stoner, nerd, goddess, etc, all of whom must band together Stranger Things-style to take out the queen parasite of the hive mind (it’s no accident the school’s team nickname is The Hornets).

They’re soon compelled to put differences aside and begin poking around the science lab trying to figure out what’s making the teachers act so odd. And all the while, they’re stymied by indifferent authority figures.

The Faculty comes to us at the tail end of the unforgiving 90s, a time when the horror genre was in a real slump (come to think of it, the Golden Era of Rap excepted, the same could be said for music). It’s since recovered, but after sustaining many a self-referential / ironic body blow.

Written by Scream’s Kevin Williamson, this one is all over the map tonally, complete with obvious song choices (School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall) and too long by 20 minutes. Still, it’s hard to go wrong with this talented cast and the bleacher-creature finale is off-the-charts.

*** (out of 5)

A Quiet Place

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” That’s of course from Alien, but in A Quiet Place, that’d actually be beneficial. According to the IMDb summary, “Two parents do what it takes to keep their children safe in a world full of creatures hunting every sound they can hear.”

In its post-apocalyptic world, there are predatory toothy aliens about who hone in on human vocal patterns and pounce. The remaining survivors have to rely on sign language, gestures, or loud noises to drown out their vocalizing and not become targets (a much more interesting take is the Canadian convention-defying horror, Pontypool, where a zombie virus is transmitted by the English language and survivors are holed up in a radio station).

A Quiet Place employs an interesting gambit: essentially making the audience deaf to go along for the ride. Against a backdrop of pure silence, jump scares (of which there are many) are much more pronounced. Unfortunately, jump scares are garbage, the equivalent of comedians lazily dropping F-bombs for cheap laughs (Jump scares are cheap scares. A loud noise pumped into the middle of even The Sound of Music could scare an audience).

As a post-apocalyptic conceit, the premise of A Quiet Place is genius. And as an experimental exercise, it’d be a great short. At feature length, you’ll be tuning out your other senses.

There’s a scene with a two-inch nail poking up through a wooden step. It’s obvious telegraphing that a pregnant Emily Blunt will step on it. That she doesn’t cry out means that filmmakers are too locked into their stunt-premise.

Silent films (which A Quiet Place is in part) usually make up for it with creepy visuals a la The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. So without any visceral visuals, what’s left is pretty tame, dull stuff.¬†It’s true, saying something is boring isn’t the most fine-tuned criticism to levy, but for a reviewer who sat through a documentary about Helvetica font (!) and enjoyed it…maybe it could be.

Par for the course, bloodless horror movies like this one are wildly overpraised and over-reviewed. Being gore-free gives them a veneer of critical respectability.

Let’s hope the screenwriter wasn’t paid by the word.

**1/2 (out of 5)