Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Teeth – Review

Teeth – Review

Sep 21, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007

Teeth is a 2007 Sundance Film Festival release written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein that operates successfully on multiple levels. Although it most noticeably sits very nicely in the sub-genre of horror-black comedy, Teeth also works equally well in the arena of satire and even gore. It is quite possible that this movie has more to say than even the film realizes. It was one of the rare viewing experiences where you are expecting something fairly decent and walk away with something very good.

Dawn O’Keefe is a high school teenage girl who has the rare conviction that sex is designed to be solely the act of a husband and wife. She is one of the lead spokespersons for an organization called “The Promise” that advocates abstaining from sex until marriage and symbolizes the commitment by the wearing of a ring on the left hand, only to be replaced with a wedding ring when that day arrives. During a sexual assault from a fellow Promise member, Dawn becomes aware that she has a rather powerful biological deterrent to any would-be sexual predator- a condition called “vagina dentata.” As the movie progresses, Dawn moves through a range of emotions, beginning with fear and disgust and culminating with the perception that she enjoys her new-found advantage over the male species.

As a satire, Teeth works about as good as you can get. As would be expected, most of the members of The Promise organization are religious minded folks who reach their convictions based on faith and believe in God. Additionally, as would be expected, Lichtenstein portrays this group as the real scare in the movie, depicting them as a cult whose very existence should send cold chills down our back. At one point in the film, the group is meeting for a “rally” and is chanting small sections from Genesis 3 about the serpent and Eve. All these scenarios create a clear satirical commentary on religious groups such as “True Love Waits” that every church youth program in the country has promoted at one time or another. Interestingly, the film actually gets this partly right. That might be surprising to hear coming from a pastor (which I am), but the underlying spiritual development of a group like The Promise more often than not reaches its apex with a signed declaration card and a promise ring, neither of which are bad things, but neither of which will sustain the kind of commitment and conviction that is to be honored. Although I get bored of filmmakers always depicting Christian groups with a cult/freaked-out/extremist point of view, Teeth is correct to say that much of what happens in these organizations may be well intended, but falls short on effectiveness. Even more interesting, whether the movie intended this or not, the film actually supports the message of The Promise by acknowledging the danger involved with using sex for just personal victory or pleasure. Although the male has an initial sense of “victory” upon first initiating the act with Dawn, it doesn’t take long for him to wish that he had made a different decision. Whereas with thousands of teenagers in the real world today, guilt will be the factor involved to bring about regret, for those who become intimate with Dawn, it is physical pain and torment that causes the sudden change of heart.

Teeth also works to create a character in Dawn who develops into a voice for all womanhood – the empowering of the female to take control over the male in the one area where she has historically been inferior; sexual dominance. Many of us horror fans remember vividly the images from films such as Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave where the female lead is plunged head-first into the world of sexual assault that is male dominated. We see the flip side of that coin in the ultimate way with the character of Dawn and it falls in line nicely with the current trend of movies that give a great weight to the notion of not only female equality, but superiority.

Finally, and perhaps what the filmmakers were most going for, is that Teeth takes the “rules” of horror movies to the ultimate level. If you have sex, you die – that seems to have been the paradigm since Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween.  In this instance, it isn’t the masked serial killer that is waiting to spear the couple who end up with their clothes off, but it is the killer of the human body itself that wreaks havoc. And as we all know, there is no powerful threat to our own well being than the persuasions of our own flesh.

The only real complaint I have with the film is that at times it tried a bit too hard to be a black-comedy. There are a few scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor, but I think the film wanted to make darn sure we all got the message – they are having fun with this. At other times, one scene in particular when Dawn is researching her condition, the musical score is horrendous. But, those are minor issues and will not interfere with your enjoyment of the movie. This is definitely an “R” rated film and should be viewed with caution. But it does have a message to share.

Click Here to purchase Teeth

One comment

  1. A superb review of a superb film. I couldn’t have said it any better.

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