Monday, June 2, 2008


“No men were harmed in the making of this film.”
So claim the end credits for Mitchell Lichtenstein’s wildly original and wildly disturbing Teeth. And that may be true, as far as things go, but there’s no reassurance that the men in the audience won’t leave the theatre traumatized.

Dawn (The Big Bad Swim‘s Jess Weixler) is a high school student who is part of an organization called The Promise, which promotes abstinence amongst teens. Unpopular with a significant portion of the student population, Dawn nonetheless sticks to her firm belief that sex should be saved for marriage.
And despite her mother (Vivienne Benesch) being ill, and her stepbrother Brad (Nip/Tuck’s John Hensley) being a rebellious heavy metal fiend, Dawn copes rather admirably. Dawn’s world is fine, if not exactly brilliant.
Till new student Tobey (Hale Appleman) arrives and throws everything out of whack, forcing Dawn to wake up to the cold, cruel ways of the world.

Now, I don’t want to blurt out the central idea that drives Teeth. You may get a notion from the trailer, but it isn’t really actually named till about halfway through the film, so I’ll avoid mentioning it in this review.
I can say that Teeth is Rated R, and is more black comedy than actual horror movie. Having said that, I must say that there is horror in Teeth, particularly for the males in the audience, but it’s not the standard horror of your average scary movie.
The fact of the matter is, it’s not often you get to see a film as unique and audacious in its subject matter and sensibility as Teeth. I’ve read a couple of short stories that have dealt with the same idea, but it’s really only in Teeth where I’ve seen a satisfying treatment of it.
And a big reason why, is that Teeth has a rather good cast, who bring a humanity to the far-from-normal subject matter. Weixler, in particular, delivers a fantastic performance, effectively painting her character’s need to do the right thing, with the misery and frustration of her self-imposed abstinence, and later on, the bizarre circumstances of her predicament.

Since I myself am abstaining from springing Teeth’s central premise in this review, I guess I’ll just say that it’s a dark feminist fable for our times, a terribly effective cautionary tale of sexual awakening, and the mysterious and potent strength hidden in the core of the female species.
There’s a lot of strong imagery and symbolism in Teeth, and one sequence sticks out for me. It’s the scene in the classroom where they’re studying the human reproductive organs, which seems to suggest that in trying to see women for what they really are, men can’t help but destroy them in the process.
Like Fruit Chan’s Dumplings and Frank Oz’s The Stepford Wives remake, Teeth shows how far women are willing to go to exist and prosper in this patriarchal world, and like Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, it’s also a curious cinematic exercise in female empowerment.
It says, in very decisive terms, that it isn’t that women are dangerous, emasculating b!tches, but rather, that woman can be dangerous, emasculating b!tches, if we men are being total d!cks to them. (And sadly, nearly to a man, the male specimens in Teeth are complete noodges. Even Dawn’s father—played by Twin Peaks’ Lenny von Dohlen—ultimately proves to be an impotent force in his own household.)
Teeth also suggests that if we men continue to be total d!cks to women, then they could very well adapt to our misogynistic ways and teach us all a lesson we’ll never forget, by getting us right where it hurts…

Parting shot: Reviews of The Big Bad Swim, The Stepford Wives, and Death Proof can be found in the Archive.

(Teeth OS and images courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of