Teeth (2007)

5 Oct

And she seems like such a nice girl...

Everything I was hoping to get out of “Bad Biology” I got out of “Teeth” — and then some. This little flick gnawed its way into my heart, and yes I’m going to keep punning …

Lovely Dawn O”Keefe (Jess Weixler), who was born in the shadow of a power plant, is among the growing number of teens who have taken purity vows. Up until now, it’s been easy to keep this vow, but new boy Tobey (Hale Appleman) has her thinking some impure thoughts. After some particularly racy dreams — well, racy for her, anyway — she decides it’d be best not to see Tobey anymore. But, she can’t stop thinking about him, so they end up on another date — this time in a remote wooded area known for being a make-out spot. One thing leads to another, but before she can get too carried away, she tells Tobey to stop. He doesn’t, and too bad for him, because Dawn has a built-in sexual defense mechanism that’s unlike any other …

Look, this is a movie about a girl with a vagina that attacks whenever threatened. High art, it ain’t. Yet, the topical subject matter and original storyline go a long way toward making it a really fun, campy romp.  Chew on this: The pressure of abstinence vows, the guilt such vows cause and the ostracizing of those who do break such vows are all dealt with in a level-headed manner in “Teeth.” Dawn is so afraid of temptation that she doesn’t know her own body. She’s never seen illustrations of female body parts, and she’s certainly never done any investigating which would let her know something’s up down there. She’s so paralyzed by the fear of her own sexuality that she even fails to recognize Tobey’s assault as assault and instead can only focus on the loss of her purity. The attacking vagina is really a fairly smart metaphor for the fear and guilt that some teens shoulder with the emphasis on abstinence-only sex ed. Once she outs herself as “impure,” she can no longer turn to any of her promise ring circle of friends  for help with her crisis. This leads her down a path of increasingly worse decisions, which seems like a pretty realistic response for a teenage girl who feels alone and abandoned.

The subplot of the stepbrother who's in love with his stepsister is less like "Clueless" and more like "Flowers in the Attic." In other words: Creepy.

I won’t pretend that this isn’t a film which gives as much attention to its dark — I mean really dark — humor and gory bits as much as it does its social commentary, but I was pleasantly surprised by how relevant the subject matter is and how relatively well its treated. The film doesn’t go out of its way to present the abstinence viewpoint as stupid; there is a little teasing of the main character, but she also has a lot of friends who share her viewpoint. Rather, the film seems to suggest that the bigger problem with such a narrow focus is the ignorance that it seems to bring and the overwhelming guilt it can cause. These seem like fair criticisms.

But, like I say, it’s not all heavy commentary. This is another one of those horror movies which might be more accurately described as gore-comedy. While there is a supernatural element, it seems like most of the horror comes from the, how should I say it? Biting sequences. I can see where it would be hard to stomach, but I also won’t deny laughing out loud at the knowledge of what was coming. Make no mistake, “Teeth” is filled with shocking sequences. It’s a decidedly different sort of raunchiness than you usually get with films like these — the lone scene of female nudity is tastefully presented and really sort of touching. The scenes of male nudity are the exploitive ones.

The young cast does a good job with this film. Jess Weixler is especially worth noting. This is not really an ensemble film, and much rests on Weixler being able to create not only a likable character, but also a genuine character. It’d be easy to write off the virginal Dawn as too goody-goody for words, but Weixler plays her as a sensitive, caring young woman instead of a judgmental preachy type. Her emotional development over the course of the film is believable, as are her terrified reactions to the changes in her body.

With “Teeth,” writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein created a smart little movie that should please cult horror fans all while using its horrific elements to comment on a societal issue. And it does it all without biting off more than it can chew. Three stars out of four.

Teeth“: Rated R. Starring Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Hale Appleman, Lenny von Dohlen, Vivienne Benesch and Ashley Springer. Written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein. Cinematography by Wolfgang Held. Original music by Robert Miller.

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2 Responses to “Teeth (2007)”

  1. Joshua Bishop October 28, 2010 at 6:54 am #

    I absolutely love this movie. Good review.

    • Rhanda October 29, 2010 at 2:16 am #

      Thanks! It was a pleasant surprise for me. When I first heard about the concept, I figured it’d be kind of standard exploitation fare, but it’s a good deal cleverer than that.

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