Sunday, September 9, 2012

REVIEW: Teeth (2007)

Welcome to the new and improved Cinema Freaks, where I only review movies based on current events from three weeks ago! Today’s movie is Teeth, which serves as a great support to Senator Todd Akin’s claim that women have a special defense system against being raped and having children through rape, because this movie is about a girl with teeth in her vagina!

Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Starring: Jess Wexler, John Hensley

Yup…I don’t think any further introduction is needed. I actually think my previous sentence explains it all. So why am I going to continue writing stuff? Because I have a God complex and you all will listen to me FOREVER!

The film begins with two little kids sitting in a pool and showing each other their private parts while their parents sit in lawn chairs and drink beer – classy, right? The camera cuts away for a second and then the kid’s finger is bleeding…gee, I wonder what happened?

Hint: he stuck his finger down there and her vagina bit it off like a piranha. Just in case you couldn't, you know, guess.

After an opening credit scene of little biological genes floating around and infecting one another with the black plague apparently, which could be used in any instructional science video, we get our main character Dawn.

No; not that Dawn. This Dawn:

The way these kids react is more fanatical than the Children of the Corn, for Christ's sake. Whoops, was that a blasphemy? I'm sorry...I'm so sorry...

She’s a motivational speaker at schools telling kids to wait until marriage to have sex, and even gives out purity rings, which OF COURSE are the real deal, and can NEVER just be taken off whenever said wearer feels like it…also, I think I’ve already seen this plot in South Park. It involved the Jonas Brothers being killed by Mickey Mouse. Which one is more ridiculous? YOU DECIDE...

So anyway, we learn that Dawn has a brother who looks like something out of American History X and apparently does nothing all day but hang out with his girlfriend in his room and have anal sex…

He also likes to sit in his underwear with a gun in his hand. Because he's just that cool.

This is all very subtly psychological, indicating that he’s still afraid of vaginas after what happened to him as a kid. It’s very well done in this scene anyway (later on, when they're still arguing about having sex an hour into the film, it gets a little overblown), but honestly, just call Dr. Phil. He’ll help you out better than being in this movie ever could.

Dawn starts hanging out with this one guy who acts like a serial killer, so of course she’s attracted to him. But their Christian upbringing prevents them from even doing things like watching PG-13 movies together because there would be too much making out. They go with some friends to the woods and the creek, where apparently people go in this cave nearby to do “you know what…” in the words of the super-conservative Christian girl whose name I can't remember. Wait, what do they do in there? Swim?

However, after her brother tells her he wants to sleep with her, she decides to throw caution to the wind and invite creepy serial killer guy to go swimming in the creek, where stuff escalates pretty quickly:

A typical relationship for Dawn: Day 1, "we can't make out because we have to wait till marriage to even think about sex." Day 2, "we can't see each other because our thoughts are impure." Day 3, "let's make out and you can touch my boobs!" Geez...some women...

Then when he decides he wants to rape her…well…

Better luck next time, buddy! Oh wait…

That's supposed to be his body floating face-down in the water, by the way. Damn murky pictures...ruining my reputation around here.

Huh. I guess this scumbag rapist being removed from the gene pool ISN’T something we should mourn. Moving on, then. Dawn goes through some very serious guilt trip scenes about what she did, which are actually very well done and atmospheric, far surpassing what most movies like this end up going for. She researches vagina dentata, the phenomenon/myth of vaginas with teeth that this movie was based on, and she hears a steady drum beat in her head, so clearly she’s actually a forgotten Time Lord…

Ahem, wait, no.

Actually she just goes to a gynecologist where her vagina bites off his fingers. I just love this scene solely for what happens afterwards: he’s sitting on the ground, bleeding and hysterical, and he shouts “VAGINA DENTATA! IT’S TRUE! VAGINA DENTATAAAA!” That’s pretty damn funny. Is it like the bogeyman of gynecologists everywhere? The monster beneath their operating tables, keeping them in line? I want to see a movie about this guy. I’m sure it would be a story worth seeing.

Panicking, Dawn goes over to the house of the one guy who liked her earlier and was very frustrated when she turned him down, saying she has “nowhere else to go.” So why didn’t she just find someone else from her little Christian group thing? We even saw earlier she hung out with more people from the group; one of whom was a girl! So really? Her only option is to go to the house of the one guy who had a crush on her? She even takes a bath in his house and accepts strange pills and drinks from him. For someone so focused on purity until marriage, she’s really not very good at keeping herself safe otherwise. I mean what if something TERRIBLE happens…

"Hello, I'm Dr. Date-Rape. How can I assist you today?"

Yeah! Like that!

They actually do manage to have sex without her killing him this time, mostly because she was drugged and not angry or resisting this time, which seems to be the condition for her "teeth" activating. I will ignore the fact that this guy apparently wanted to have sex with her so bad that he would ignore the fact that she was panicking about having murdered someone. Actually, I think that’s probably the most realistic thing in the movie…guys just do anything to get laid.

Anyway, they have sex again, but this time she finds out that he made a bet with his jackass friend that he could have sex with her. So it’s chomping time again!

In a stroke of amazingly bad luck, she finds out that her mother has died in the hospital while all of this was going on, and that it was her brother’s fault for not responding to her screams for help, probably because he was busy trying out for the Broadway production of American History X the musical. The dad goes in and beats him up for being a disrespectful little shit.

This dad kicks ASS. You show that wannabe skinhead what's what!

As a completely rational response, the brother sics his big black dog on the dad!

A big black dog AGAIN? Gee…I’ve never seen THAT before…

Anyway, Dawn hears about this and decides to take the ultimate revenge – sex with her half brother following in more genital severance like this movie specializes in!

Dawn, having nothing left to tie her down, becomes a roadside drifter who has deadly sex with any man who tries to screw with her…literally and figuratively. I’m so glad this movie exists so that men in our US Senate can validate their otherwise strange and ridiculous opinions. What an oddly specific triumph for our country! Shame about the whole demeaning womens' rights thing though. You win some you lose some, I guess.

But seriously, I’d like to say a few things about Teeth. This was actually a good film, and very much something worth watching for fans of horror who want something a little more offbeat and abstract. Nowhere near the sleazefest I was expecting, Teeth is a very clever movie with great acting and camerawork. It’s a film about female empowerment tackled through a very strange, humorous and often gory plot point.

First and foremost, the acting is just excellent in this. It can get cartoonish at times, but only when the movie demands it, and you never really get the sense that the director just didn’t know what he was doing like you do in some other movies. This was a very calculated film, with the director finding a style that worked for him and getting some very appropriate, funny and oftentimes chilling performances out of these actors. Jess Wexler as Dawn is very, very good. She gives a really emotive performance and captures all the fear and bashful shyness that her character is going through, and he really got some great fear scenes out of her – I mean god damn. I can’t really describe it well enough through text, but the atmosphere of the film combined with her sort of withered, trapped-puppy-dog look is just immense.

The other actors are all really good as well, as I mentioned, but since there are really only two central characters, I’ll just talk about one more to save time – John Hensley as the brother, Brad. This character could have easily just been horrible. He’s the stereotypical mean delinquent older half-brother, but his personality has been shaped by what happened as a kid, when he got his finger bitten off by Dawn’s “teeth” down below. Now he’s got this twisted thing going on where he can’t have sex anymore because he’s afraid of vaginas subconsciously and also he’s attracted to Dawn. It’s not a GREAT character or anything, but hot damn does John Hensley sell this part! I mean this guy is on fire here. He takes this caricature, this Freudian miracle of psychiatry, this absolute piggy-bank for anyone who practices in the field, and turns the character into a stone cold mean, threatening and very believable villain.

Some people just can’t be helped – some people are damaged beyond repair through no fault of their own, and because of something strange and terrible that happened a long time ago. But sometimes those people turn into monsters and do harm to others, and then there is no more pity one can feel for them. Hensley’s performance as Brad is cold-hearted, sinister and sick as hell, and he is one of the best parts of the movie.

The real strength here is how good main character Dawn is, though. Dawn, afflicted with a very odd and horrific genetic mutation, coped with it growing up by turning into a total abstinence freak and a big religious nut. But paradoxically, that also makes her journey in the film much more harrowing and compelling than it would be if she was just a regular kid without all the religious stuff. Her “purity” which she defines herself by ironically is the biggest factor in her slide into a different personality – perhaps her heel-face turn wouldn’t have been so extreme if she wasn’t so bent on religion, but then again, if she didn’t have her “teeth” in the first place, she wouldn’t be that way either. Both of these aspects of Dawn – the physical and the mental – feed off one another and create something rather compelling out of such a goofy premise, and she becomes a fully three dimensional character. Maybe the movie could have worked even better if they jettisoned some of the comedic elements out, but with a plot this bizarre I don’t think that would really be feasible – I’ll get to that in a minute.

And there are goofy moments in this film, don’t get me wrong; very good ones. It’s very wry and witty and tackles its topic with enough down-to-Earth humor so that it doesn’t just become a pretentious mess. The balance between the comedy and the horror is really excellent and they start to blend together way better than some movies do. A lot of movies just sort of stick the comedy in and the horror in as very separate pieces, and as such, one of the two isn’t done that well, if not just the entire film.

Teeth works because both the comedy and the horror play off one another and create something stylish and fresh, amplifying both elements – it’s funny and actually pretty creepy at times, beyond just the gore effects. Director Mitchell Lichtenstein has a real feel for combining music with a scene. Sometimes it gets really goofy and parodic, imitating old school happy family sitcom music (MUCH better than anything that crap-ass movie Parents did), and sometimes it’s teeth-bitingly (ha ha) ominous like when Dawn is researching the “vagina dentata” myth, with some really good use of tribal drum sounds to create tension. The whole soundtrack is incredibly over the top, but surprisingly it really works – the whole movie is incredibly over the top, too.

So, yeah, with all this it makes it seem like there’s nothing gory or ridiculous in this film. Well, it’s safe to say, if you really, REALLY don’t like seeing mutilated male genitals, this probably wouldn’t be a good film to watch. And if you were looking for a movie to watch with your new girlfriend and her family…this wouldn’t be the best choice. The gore is silly and over the top and Litchenstein’s directing portrays it starkly and nakedly, without showing too much or too little. It has the effect it should – it’s shocking and brutal. But it’s never exploitative or gratuitous and doesn’t feel forced. The gore pretty much has to be there. It’s what the movie is about.

Teeth isn’t for everyone and it’s bound to create some controversy because of its theme and presentation, but from my standpoint, it’s really good. The directing is fantastic and artful, the acting is wonderful and the way the story is told is meaningful and has a real impact on you. It’s got witty moments and some silly scenes, but also some very powerful and serious ones, too. The film just is what it is, and those who are predetermined to hate it before even watching it will probably just hate it. But if you go in with an open mind and let the film surprise you, it’s quite a trip and well worth your time. One of the best horror movies of the 2000s for sure.

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