June 4, 2008

DVD Review: Teeth

The front cover proclaims Teeth "The most alarming cautionary tale for men since Fatal Attraction." The quote is attributed to Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter. You know, reading that, my immediate reaction is to disagree. For my money that honor falls upon Hard Candy, the 2006 film which has a would be victim of an internet predator get the table flipped on him by Juno's Ellen Page. Now there is a film that is incredibly involving and more than a little cringe inducing while making you wonder who exactly you should cheer for, if anyone. However, that reaction came prior to actually watching Teeth. Now, having seen the movie, the playing field is much closer to being even. Teeth will surely make any male in the audience a little shy. This is a movie that is funny, frightening, and terribly effective.

This movie takes the myth of vagina dentata and gives it an exploitive twist en route to a film that is sure to get a rise out of an audience. The myth in its original form has appeared in stories and legends from cultures all over the world, including Egyptian, Native American, Greek, and African. It was used to explain the dangers of sex with strange women, or under inappropriate circumstances by feeding on the male fear of castration. It is something that survives to this day in the form of crude jokes. I am sure that there are many, like me, who have heard at least one or two of said jokes, but was unaware of its origin in the vagina dentata myth.

With Teeth, first time writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein has taken the myth and taken it a step back from the current level of crude joke, injecting it with a sense of humor, of immediacy, and of genuine fear. In other words, he is giving it some real weight. For too long the myth has languished as the butt of a joke, it is time that the real fear from which it was born so long ago be given back to it. To that end, Teeth is a very dark comedy that preys on the fears of man, empowers women, and gives it substance unlike any joke has been able to give it.

Teeth opens innocuously enough, a camera high above the trees, slowly descending into a small town, revealing a pair of nuclear cooling towers before centering on a family sitting on the lawn, enjoying the beautiful sunny day. Sitting in a small children's pool are a young boy and girl, stepsiblings. They are picking on each other while mom and dad sit in the background. The peace collapses when the boy, Brad the older of the two, screams in pain and reveals a nasty looking cut on the tip of his finger.

The credits run, a well produced segment featuring cells fleeing from a particularly aggressive one. Once the credits conclude, we pick up the children as teenagers.

Dawn (Jess Weixler, Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Acting at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival), is an average high school student who happens to be a spokesperson for a group of teens that have pledged themselves to abstinence. Dawn is a true believer and has never had any problems keeping herself in check. Her ability to control herself is put in jeopardy when a new student arrives, the like-minded Tobey (Hale Appleman). The two become friends, but Dawn feels they should not hang out, as he is stirring urges within her that are dangerous to her promise of abstinence.

One day, when the two are still hanging out together, by themselves, Tobey gives into baser instincts and forces himself on Dawn. It is this moment when the changes going on inside Dawn come out in a completely unexpected manner. Dawn has teeth in her vagina, a fact that Tobey learns the hard way.

From this moment on, Dawn struggles to come to grips with what happened to Tobey, not to mention the physical changes that she is going through. Misadventures with men, the fear of being a murderer, and just trying to feel at home in her own skin are the troubles Dawn is faced with as Teeth hurtles towards its conclusion. And this doesn't even touch on the pervert her step-brother has become.

The movie is quite solid. Mitchell Lichtenstein has found a nice balance between dark humor and horror, while maintaining an exploitative edge that does not need to go overboard on gore. For a horror film, and considering its subject, it is rather sedate on the blood scale. However, it all works for the film, as the character of Dawn is allowed to shine. Jess Weixler does a wonderful job as Dawn, beginning as a confident young woman, before descending into fear, paranoia, and confusion, only to come out a stronger, yet changed woman at the other end of the tunnel.

Audio/Video. The anamorphically enhanced widescreen image looks very good. The colors are sharp, and there is no evidence of any digital defects or blemishes. the same goes for the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, nothing to complain about.

Extras. This Dimension Extreme release has some added bonus material.
  • Commentary. The track features writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein's speaking style is rather droll and uninvolving. That said, he does offer up some interesting trivia, such as the town they shot in was uncooperative having become convinced that they were shooting pornography.
  • Deleted Scenes. Nothing terribly crucial found here. Five scenes that failed to make the final cut. Two of the scenes I like, but are better off not in the film. The first has Dawn, Tobey and her friends noticing sexually charged ads in the mall; the second has Dawn's friends confronting her about Tobey. (4 minutes)
  • Behind the Scenes Featurette. This is actually pretty good. It goes into the myth and the genesis of the story, as wellas information on shooting and prosthetics, and interviews with cast and crew. (29 minutes)
  • Trailer. Always nice to have, and this one is great. (1.5 minutes)
  • TV Spot. Not as good as the trailer, but still quite effective. (.5 minute)

Bottomline. Very well done film. Sure, it could have been bloodier and more over the top, but as it is, it is a very entertaining and cringe inducing film. The central performance is charismatic and the story is one that has applications outside of the exploitive. Make it a double feature with Hard Candy and you are in for one heck of a night!



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