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TEETH

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Hale Appelman, Lenny Von Dohlen
Director:  Mitchell Lichtenstein
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dimension Extreme
Features:  See Review
Length:  94 Minutes
Release Date:  May 6, 2008

“Don’t worry…I’m not gonna bite you.”

Film ***

I think Teeth is the first time I’ve been able to say a movie bites without it being a criticism.

It’s a work of some deep, dark, twisted, sick genius.  It boldly ventures into waters that are gruesome, demented, sometimes hilarious, and altogether surprisingly intelligent.  Mark Lichtenstein as writer and director takes a primal fear born out of ages of mythology, and turns it into a starkly original and thoughtful horror offering.

Poor Dawn (Weixler).  She’s a good-hearted teenage girl who is big into abstinence.  She speaks at school groups touting the benefits of saving yourself for your wedding night as a moral choice, but one that seems to exist in a world of repression.  The school textbooks on human health discuss male genitalia, but the female ones have been censored (much like the movies these days; showing a penis isn’t taboo, but show a vagina, and you’re in trouble).

For her, sexuality is a mystery…something to fear, resist, and hold sacred.  But it isn’t all psychological.  Deep inside, she feels something is wrong with her.  When a fellow student tries to force the issue, he finds it makes him less of a man than he originally believed.

That’s because…are you ready?  Dawn has ‘vagina dentata’.  And yes, it means what you think it means.  It’s an ancient myth that rose from fears of women’s powers, fear of castration, fear of intimacy as something bestial rather than beautiful., fear of childbirth, and many others.  In Dawn’s case, it all comes to tangible fruition, and the results are as unsettling as you might imagine.

It’s a horrifying prospect, but ironically, it seems to serve the innocent Dawn well…there are men who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and when that happens, they learn the hard way that ‘no’ means ‘no’. 

One of those guys is her stepbrother Brad (Hensley), the polar opposite of Dawn, who had an unlucky encounter with her in childhood.  We’re not sure if he even remembers it, but despite his continual stream of conquests in his dungeon-like bedroom, he seems incapable of…shall we say, normal sex.  He thinks he needs to conquer Dawn to make himself complete.  Oh, sweet irony.

In the end, I’m almost determined to call what Dawn has a super power…by the time the credits roll, you feel like you’ve witnessed the birth of a new heroine, but one that probably never could have come from the mind of the likes of Stan Lee.  Her ability is brutally terrifying, but she seems to be able to use it for good.  I don’t mind saying, even as a guy, that there are some men in this picture who definitely deserve their fate.

Jess Weixler won a special Jury Prize at Sundance for her performance, which had to have been a difficult task, given the nature of the proceedings.  But she carries it off splendidly…she’s always true to the character and the situation, and isn’t self-conscious about how certain aspects of that situation will inspire snickers in the audience.  And as beautiful as she is, I only hope her involvement with this movie doesn’t dampen her future relationships.

Mitchell Lichtenstein has accomplished one thing, if nothing else.  He’s delivered a movie that will at least have viewers saying “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”  He deserves credit; this idea could have gone a hundred different ways, with about 99 of them being the wrong choice.  His movie is sick to the very core, but also smart.  I can handle grisly goings-on as long as I don’t feel as though my intelligence is being insulted.

He even shows his small town America with big nuclear stacks always visible in the background, but doesn’t explain their presence.  We might assume that they are the cause of Dawn’s abnormality, but that’s up to us.  To me, they just loom like giant phallic symbols over the innocence of the place, which turns out to be far from innocent. 

I can’t imagine what Lichtenstein can possibly have for a follow-up, but this wickedly disturbing cautionary tale makes me want to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Not many would dare to do what he’s done with Teeth.  Whether that’s a blessing or a curse, I’ll leave for you to ponder.

Video **1/2

The only place where budget limitations are inherent is in the film stock…daylit scenes are bright, well-rendered and colorful, but the many darker sequences show grain and some distortions.  It’s not overly bad, but definitely noticeable.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio offers a fair amount of dynamic range, but doesn’t require much of the surround channels.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and the music from Robert Miller is a good touch.

Features ***

There is a decent commentary track from Lichtenstein, which offers some insights, but is also sparse from time to time.  He also lends optional commentary on some deleted scenes.  There is a behind-the-scenes featurette, plus a trailer and a TV spot, which are both a hoot to watch.

Summary:

Teeth takes women’s empowerment to a startlingly grotesque but undeniably powerful level.  I hesitate to recommend it, but now that you’ve reached the end of my review, hopefully you have enough information to make up your own mind.

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