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Teeth (2007)

Dimension Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/6/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/8/2008

In the early part of his career, David Cronenberg redefined horror films by incorporating science, and more specifically, the mysteries of the human body, into his films. This wasn't science fiction, per se, Cronenberg's film always had an air of reality, no matter how weird things got. These weren't horror films in the traditional sense, as there weren't (really) monsters, ghosts, or killers. No, in these films, characters underwent some sort of physiological change which lead to disastrous results. (Even though Cronenberg's 1986 version of The Fly does technically contain a monster, the overall film still focuses on the revolution of the body.) But, it's been nearly a decade since Cronenberg has visited this genre, and it's time for someone to take over the tradition. Who would have expected the son of a pop-artist to step forward. But, that's exactly what we get with Teeth.

Teeth tells the story of Dawn (Jess Weixler), a young, pretty, high school student. Dawn lives with her parents and her very disturbed step-brother, Brad (John Hensley). She is the leader of an abstinence group called "The Promise" and "purity" is Dawn's mantra. She refuses to see R-rated (or even PG-13!) movies and she wears a red ring to symbolize her pledge to wait until she's married to have sex. When she finds herself having impure thoughts about a boy, she forces herself to avoid him. When a boy forces himself on Dawn, something very violent happens. Following this, Dawn begins to suspect that there may be something different about her genitals. As she searches for answers, Dawn starts to understand that the world around her is much darker than she imagined and that she’s been quite ignorant up until now. Slowly, her “anomaly” begins to empower her.

The idea of “vagina dentata” is touchy one at best and writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of the late Roy Lichtenstein, who became famous for his comic-book like panels) walks a very fine line here. Given the subject matter, the film could have easily gone off into several different directions. The movie could have been a tongue-in-cheek comedy, or it could have been a very violent exploitation film. Lichtenstein actually plucks elements from both of those genres, but for the most part, he plays it straight and this is why the film succeeds (for the most part). (Although, I did laugh when one character keeps yelling “vagina dentata” over and over and I thought that it sounded like “hakuna mattata”.)

Like the old Cronenberg films, Teeth is science fiction and the movie never dwells on why Dawn is the way that she is. Is it because she lives near a nuclear plant? Has she willed this to happen because of her strong beliefs on chastity? (The opening scene argues against this.) We aren’t told and it isn’t important to the story. The important thing is the chaos which is wrought by Dawn’s condition. Unlike Cronenberg, Lichtenstein doesn’t pile on the gore or the special effects. We never see the “teeth” of the title, so if that’s why you’re interested in the film, then keep movie. We do, however, get to see the damage that Dawn inflicts on several men, and while these shots are very brief, they are indeed shocking.

The movie also succeeds with its realistic portrayal of Dawn’s character. At the outset, Dawn’s very moral outlook is portrayed in non-judgmental way and she’s never seen as a caricature, nor is she lampooned. Once she realize that she’s not like other girls, Dawn withdraws. She doesn’t become hysterical, nor does she confide in a friend. She simply shuts down and becomes very quiet. This approach draws the viewer into her predicament. While it would be very easy to dismiss Dawn if she were freaking out, the calm Dawn is harder to ignore. This draws power from the performance of actress Jess Weixler, who is asked to go from innocent to rampaging in the course of the film. Her “girl next door” look makes the transformation even more convincing.

While Teeth really rises above the subject matter, the movie does have some issues. The pacing is a bit sluggish at times, especially during the final act, when things should be picking up. While it is realistic that Dawn would go through moments of indecision when she learns about the “teeth”, her scenes of contemplation weigh down the movie. And I realize that it was inevitable, but I really didn’t like the fact that the ending was telegraphed from the very beginning. I was really hoping that the story would go in another direction. Still, this is an impressive feature film debut from Mitchell Lichtenstein and it’s nice to see a return to “body horror”. The movie certainly isn’t for everyone, and gorehounds will be disappointed. But, for those looking for something which lies between the arthouse and the grindhouse, then Teeth is something to chew on.

Teeth is connected to the jawbone of DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp, but there is a fine layer of grain on the image throughout the film. Also, the picture is slightly dark at times. This gives the film an overall “low budget” look. On the positive side, there are no defects from the source material and the colors look good. I detected only minor artifacting. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine, most notably with the film’s score, but there is very little in the way of overt surround or subwoofer effects. So, most of the audio comes from the front and center channels.

The Teeth DVD contains a small selection of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein. Despite the fact that he is often quite for long lengths of time, this is an OK talk. Lichtenstein gives us info about the locations and comments on certain mise en scene, but he doesn’t elaborate on the origin of the story or say much about the actors. "Behind-the-Scenes (sic) of Teeth" (29 minutes) should have been called "A Discussion about Teeth". This piece features many of cast and crew members talking about the making of the film, and more commonly, the themes of the film. These discussions are intercut with clips from the movie. We get a lot of frank notions about the film here. The DVD contains five DELETED SCENES which run about four minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary by the director. Of these scenes, only the third one is of interest, as it shows Dawn's friends turning on her. The extras are rounded out by the TRAILER and a TV SPOT (!) for Teeth.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long