Every straight man's worst nightmare is an angry vagina with teeth. Or, at the very least, that will be your nightmare after watching the new dark horror-comedy Teeth, about a teenage girl whose "special area" goes on a rampage.
Teeth follows Dawn (Jess Weixler), a teenage girl who is the epitome of abstinence advocacy. While cute, the girl is over the deep end when it comes to naive dreams of staying completely pure until marriage. Her obsession with such beliefs leads her into the arms of a fellow student, who, as it turns out, isn't as innocent as he appears. But, as Dawn learns, when she gets angry, so does her vagina, and it bites back. Literally. Soon, blood and penises are flying everywhere. At first afraid of her special friend, will Dawn learn to embrace its full power?
Despite the ludicrous summary, Teeth is a surprisingly decent movie. It isn't always consistent and it certainly isn't scary, but it is extremely painful, sexy and funny, which I'm pretty sure is all the director was going for. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein takes his time getting to the point, but, assuming you know what is going to happen ahead of time, he keeps you intrigued just enough that you fall for a few teasers and take pure enjoyment in the first penis eating. How I, as a 25-year old man, can take enjoyment in watching a penis get severed from a body is beyond me, but Lichtenstein pulls it off.
Aside from the gory focus of the movie, Lichtenstein does a good job of poking fun at abstinence programs and the people who campaign for them. The writing in the first third of the movie is particularly entertaining, and Weixler pulls off the character well. She brings an innocent, almost annoying, charm to the role and then manipulates that innocence as her character spirals out of control. Whether it should be attributed to Weixler or the costume department or makeup I don't know, but even Dawn's appearance seems to change ever so slightly as the film goes on, quietly making her hotter and hotter with every passing moment. It's this attention to detal that shows Lichtenstein clearly went into this film with no intention to make a crapfest.
Teeth is an entertaining and funny, albeit painful, thriller. It is intentionally ludicrous, but by no means is it a cheesy B-grade flick. Recommended to those who like movies about vagina with teeth.
Review by Robert Bell (B+)
Every rose has its thorn. Protecting themselves from the dangers of the environment and predators, plants and animals develop defense mechanisms. Theoretically, physical mechanisms would stem from mutation and natural selection. Should viruses, transposons, radiation, or mutagenic chemicals change the DNA sequence of a cell's genome, the result would usually be a harmful or weakly beneficial anomaly that would normally be wiped out through natural selection. However, as that theory states that the strongest beings with the most advantageous traits are the most likely to reproduce, a beneficial anomaly could logically find itself becoming a dominant trait. With the issue of a toothed vagina it is unlikely that successful breeding would help carry on the trait as the severing of penises is not conducive to reproduction.
Should a vagina develop teeth it is questionable how they might function in a chewing capacity. Does the vagina have a mandible and thus the capacity to bite and chew? Or is it more of a beak? Or is it more like a Tremors worm with strong surrounding muscles capable of biting? If the vagina is toothed, the question then turns to digestion. Is the function of it simply to bite and spit out? Or is the intention to devour? And if devoured, how is it digested? Where is it digested? And where does the waste go? Does the vagina get hungry? Where would one feel the hunger pangs? Then there is the issue of dental care; flossing and brushing might prove difficult, as would semi-annual dental visits.
Teeth could easily be juvenile and misogynistic, as the notion of a young woman with a big toothy vagina can be seen as slightly exploitative and offensive. Thankfully the film is fully aware of gender roles, male spectatorship, female empowerment and the cinematic conventions of the horror genre, as well as the history of female protagonists in horror cinema. It's actually a very clever and self aware little film that turns the tables on male castration anxieties, liberating female sexual desire rather than punishing it, which is historically typical of the genre.
Dawn (Jess Weixler) is an advocate of teen chastity, actively preaching to her peers the value of virginity and subduing sexual desires. Understandably this makes her a target of mockery amongst many of her classmates; some of whom have made bets about who can deflower the cherry poster child. When Dawn is attacked by her teen crush Tobey (Hale Appleman), she instinctually bites off his penis with her toothed vagina. This sets off confusion in Dawn, as she becomes aware of her own sexuality and anatomical differences from the other girls.
What starts out as horror and anxiety, turns into comfort and personal strength, as Dawn learns to take pleasure in her sexuality and the power she has taken back from dominant and unaware men.
Theoretically, Teeth is a pleasure to watch. A great deal of care is taken throughout to maintain a certain tone and dignity with Dawn's plight. The gaze of the film is actively female, lingering on the male form and exploiting them as the objects of sexual arousal for a change. Reality exists through the eyes of Dawn and her engagement with herself and those around her. The majority of the nudity in the film is male, save Dawn's own when she is the active viewer. It comes only when she is able to look at herself and take pride in her own sexuality. This is in direct opposition to typical female roles in horror cinema, as they are often fetishized and passive, unable to take pleasure in carnal actions without being punished. Teeth has the decency to not display the toothed vagina, but takes glee in showing many gushing severed penises as villainous male characters are killed for viewing Dawn as a simple sex object for their amusement. It is initially shocking, but quickly becomes amusing.
Cinematic conventions aren't the only theoretical concepts investigated in Teeth. Dawn's brother Brad (John Hensley) becomes aware at a young age that his sister is different than the other girls. With a nod to Freud, his character is then afraid of all vaginas other than the very one belonging to Dawn, opting to penetrate young ladies via the fundament. It could be interpreted that his fear of castration makes him unable to adhere to standard sexual practice without first exploring and overpowering the vagina from which his fears stem.
While the cognitive aspects of the film have been well thought out and explored, the aspect that brings it all together into an accessible whole is the grounded and naturalistic performance from Jess Weixler. She brings a great deal of depth to the character of Dawn, effectively conveying initial innocence and naivety and transitioning to liberation and empowerment. While Dawn appears to be a victim when initially dealing with men, she gradually becomes the power source, leaving the men to be victimized when trying to enforce their own strength. It's really rather impressive to watch and Weixler captures it wonderfully.
What saves the film from being a simple exercise in experimentation is its own sense of humour about itself. While there is a great deal of wisdom throughout the film and care not to exploit the sensitive subject matter, there are many great B-horror movie moments. When Dawn takes a visit to the gynecologist and he takes advantage of her, the subsequent struggle between the pair, while his hand is stuck in her, is hilarious. These moments balance the serious nature of Dawn's personal exploration well, keeping the film engaging for typical horror audiences.
It is true that Teeth occasionally suffers from some pacing issues and that some scenes feel a little sloppy and incomplete, but on the whole the film is fully entertaining. It succeeds as a text for female empowerment as well as an occasionally gory comedic horror, which is no small feat. This is a rare hidden gem that shouldn't be missed.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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