Teeth – movie review
“Vagina dentata” – there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day, and indeed it’s one I type now with a certain apprehension that search engines may well bring a misguided, lusty audience to these here pages, but there you go.
It is surprising to think of the number of cultural references to the phrase though – H.R. Giger was known to wax lyrical about such a phenomenon when he was designing his biomechanical monstrosity – the Alien. In the mid 90’s, a faux-pundit (possibly Remedy Malahide) on TV show The Day Today exclaimed “we just weep, like teethed vaginas.” – the absurdity of the language, and the extreme paradox of the imagery it evoked struck a deep resonant chord, to the extent that here I am remembering it some 15-odd years later. Clearly I’m not the only person on the planet who recoils at such a concept, as it is the central conceit of indie comedy horror Teeth.
With a title such as that, and a poster image of a seductress submerged in the bath, an audience shouldn’t have too many problems guessing the rough outline of the plot – naïf vestal Dawn (played by relative newcomer Jess Weixler) embarks on a journey of self discovery as her chastity is taken from her, only for some unfortunate partners to discover that she is able to take something in return.
It’s an intruging concept of course, and one that has been falsely attributed to Freud; championed by feminist movements; and even inspired the Anti-rape condom. In actual fact, what transpires as the most surprising is that the idea of such a phenomenon is so rife, that its taken as long as this for a film to get made about it! And that, dear reader, is the simple and ultimate problem I found with Teeth.
I could wax lyrical about the cinematography, the quality of the acting (which is generally of a high standard), the slightly arch kitsch awkwardness of it all, but all these elements pale in significance to what Teeth really should have brushed up on – unfortunately, its just a little bit boring. For starters, this film is billed as a comedy horror, and by trying to be both fails to achieve being either – the comedic element is so incredibly deadpan it is often missed, and the horror is, well, not particularly horrific. You might gall at such a claim – this is indeed a film about a woman using her sexuality to violently emasculate men – but if you are sat down to watch this film, then it’s a pretty strong bet that you’ve already bought into the inherent concept. The film takes roughly half its runtime wallowing around in teenage angst before biting into the meat of the matter, by which time you’ll probably be wondering if anything is on the telly tonight – by the time the horror kicks in, it is so modestly understated, it fails to really achieve any serious impact.
In this current cinematic climate, the misnomer of “torture porn” has been bandied about in reference to films like Hostel, Saw, and a steady stream of weaker copycats. Irrespective of whether you approve of these films or not, there can be no denying that they have raised the bar in terms of gruesome onscreen mutilation and amputation. Teeth is clearly aiming for a more demure, highbrow audience than these sorts of multiplex monsters, and its nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance festival would seem to indicate that it has been successful in that aspect. However trashy, exploitative or crass you might think the Saw series is, one thing it can be proud of is genuinely revolting, disturbing, or upsetting its audience and giving its paper-thin characters some acceptable motivation – unlike Teeth.
It does to a certain extent pain me to denounce this film as “not enough gore, not enough violence” put I think if you are going to make a horror about such an extreme subject, the film should be fittingly extreme, over the top, stomach churning, and completely unhinged. If you’re looking for a basis of comparison, allow me to recommend the brutally violent blood-soaked “A L’Interieur (Inside)” which stars Beatrice Dalle (formerly every student’s favourite wallpaper – Betty Blue) as a homicidal scissor-wielding spinster.
So, in summary, keep your eyes peeled for Jess Weixler in the future, but don’t rush out to the dvd store to hire this film. A genuine shame and a bit of a wasted opportunity.