Running time: 94 mins
Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Starring: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Hale Appleman
Not since Chatterbox! has a film been so centred around the special garden of a lady’s nether region. Dawn (Weixler) is a young lady living in
middle America in the shadow of a power plant and preaching “The Promise” of chastity and saving yourself for her wedding night. Unknown to Dawn she houses a very special genetic mutation (or intelligent design depending on which state in the union you belong to) with some especially shape teeth.
It’s only when Dawn is sexually assaulted that her special defence mechanism become apparent and in doing so sends her off on a voyage of discovery both of the self and of the truth behind her believe system.
Teeth like several contemporary horror titles (From Dusk Til Dawn I’m thinking of you) sets itself out as two very separate genres which will work wonderfully to the cinematic audience members who have managed to walk into the film without any prior knowledge of the content. The first thirty minutes is a well thought out social statement about many things that
middle America is shoving down the throats of the rest of us. “The Promise” like many chastity centric religious movements preaches abstinence and also ignorance towards sexual intercourse and health as those involved in these groups are statistically more likely to contract transmitted diseases. It also has a bit to say about the state of the American educational system and it’s more than a valid point. Any state that promotes teaching creationism alongside evolution is short changing those who have been entrusted to their care. It’s pretty much teaching medical students that they can cure terminal illnesses by asking Barney the Dinosaur to sing a song about it. The biggest statement in Lichtenstein’s arsenal is one that is at the core of the film and one that he, thankfully, doesn’t hammer home and that’s the devil may care attitude towards nuclear power plants and America’s dependency on “dirty” energy regardless of the long term price. Dawn’s special mutation is clearly a result of her living next to the plant (though never stated) and her mother’s unmentioned but clearly life threatening illness must be viewed similarly. Unfortunately this is a horror film and though the social commentary is very well handled it does slow the progress of the film to an awkward crawl. The film is clearly striving to be more intelligent that the theatrical trailers would want you to believe.
Jess Weixler (Dawn) is extremely believable in the role, you would technically say both roles. As the religiously conditioned public speaker she is excellent at selling the convictions on stage all the while struggling with her adolescent urges towards her pseudo boyfriend. There’s a lot that’s underwritten in the film and most of it plays out through the gesturality and still moments either on Weixler’s face or between her and her co-stars. Similarly her transformation and realisation of what has happens bring along several elements she has to be able to convincing portray. She is still the girl who believes in chastity but has had her purity taken from her, she’s troubled by how her attackers penis was severed from her body, in shock from what is happening to her but she is also the victim of a horrific attack. To her credit she plays it all perfectly, there are subtle moments for all possible avenues of thought and her ability to draw out the connections with the audience is fantastic. It’s also what’s wrong with the film as having so much character complexity within the one person and feeling the need to address all of it really slows the pace of the film and leaves you feeling frustrated. Hale Appleman is solid as Tobey, he carries all the trappings of the religious yet tempted boyfriend but plays it with a hint of knowing. One actor who could give anyone wanting it some sound advice would be Donald Sutherland and that advice would be to not play a role knowing, act what’s on the page otherwise the audience will know and they won’t thank you for it. Unfortunately for Appleman he played the character knowing what was to come and somehow manages to give off the stench of a sexual predator from his first scene of the film. John Hensley was unconvincing as the dark and twisted step brother Brad. In Nip/Tuck he always came across a little wooden and unfortunately this has carried over on to the big screen as his character is one tone and uninteresting. This is probably not all his fault as it feels like in a film where so much was left unwritten one of the things that could have been done was give him at least one more dimension. Perhaps he’ll be better later in the year in Hostel: Part III though with it being directed by the downright awful Scott Spiegel there’s room for doubt. The rest of the cast hand in performances that are fine with Ashley Springer (Ryan) being the stand out winner for best support, his scenes with Weixler are probably the strongest of the film.
The direction is strong. Clearly Lichtenstein has an eye for a shot and has the amazing ability to make a suburbia built around a nuclear power plant look beautiful. Whether it was a bit to get a lower rating or simply a lack of courage is up for debate but there was room for some traditional horror shots that simply never materialised. Yes it’s scarier when you don’t see the shark but eventually (in Jaws) you see the shark…you have to see the shark. There’s no reveal moment in Teeth and as such it leaves you a degree of separation away from the horror which is disappointing as the castration scenes were all building up to “the reveal” but always shied away.
There’s a distinct change in tone when Dawn’s fight or flight instinct kicks in, whilst being raped by Tobey (Appleman). Firstly the film takes on, bizarrely, a more light-hearted feel and it’s not only enjoyable but funny to see her assailant get the kind of comeuppance that he deserves but surely wasn’t expecting. There’s also a distinct change in the score of the film, in the opening act it’s soft and understated and pedestrian, when Dawn discovers her secret the theme is instantly a lot more dramatic and theatrical and reminiscent of the type of score that you’d expect to see in Kolchak The Nightstalker and is a welcome change of pace for the film which was until this point slow moving. This change of gear doesn’t last forever unfortunately as the film returns to it’s social commentary stance but with blood and castration. There are some scenes in which it genuinely works, the sequence in the doctors surgery is one, likewise with Brad (John Hensley) and his beloved dog but rather than embracing the fact that as a horror in which a girl’s vagina has a set of razor shape teeth the film can pretty much do anything it wants it’s determined to have some sort of message. The message is clear, it’s also present in hundreds of other films that are solely dedicated to shining a light on
…this is supposed to be a horror. America
It’s seems ironic that a film that carries a tongue in cheek warning message about the religious promotion of chastity is too timid to go all the way and become a real horror movie. Like most of it’s kind it has an excellent premise and a solidly enjoyable and enticing trailer but that's the trailer, the film is something completely different. Teeth spends far too much time trying to be all things to all people and in the end fails to be the one thing it's meant to be as it lacks that killer bite to make it as a genuine horror.