For the 2008 release, Teeth, writer and director Mitchell Lichtenstein obviously wanted to create something unique and memorable. Well, it is safe to say that he did that as ten years later people are still saying “WTF?” when talking about the film and men are still wincing when thinking about certain scenes within it…
Other notable horror releases in 2008 included Cloverfield, The Strangers, Eden Lake, Let The Right One In and Martyrs. All stand out films in their own right and are arguably considered classics within their own sub-genre by many. But not many films that year, or any other year, thinking about it (although correct me if I’m wrong), feature the struggles of a teenage girl with teeth in her vagina!
Seemingly coming across like a cautionary, coming-of-age type tale of how not to treat women (they are not sex objects, people!), Teeth is a horror/comedy that follows teenager, Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler), a schoolgirl that preaches to her fellow school kids about the perils of sex, or any kind of sexual activity in fact, before marriage. Dawn seems very dedicated to the cause and even wears a “purity ring” to prove it. But of course, being of that age it’s not long before Jess meets and falls for a boy and Tobey (Hale Appleman) is that boy. And it seems that there is a genuine connection between Dawn and Tobey. That is until he forces himself on her and attempts to have sex with her and gets a lot more than he bargained for. Yep – Tobey gets his cock bitten off by Dawn’s vagina… and what with her perverted step-brother, Brad (John Hensley), who’s affected by something that happened when he and Dawn were kids, and a critically ill mother (Vivienne Benesch), it’s safe to say Dawn’s life is a little more complicated than most teenage girls.
Mitchell Lichtenstein has said in interviews that influential Stephen King character, Carrie, was an inspiration of sorts for Dawn and you can see why, with the taking out her frustrations of being mistreated with surprising and previously unknown powers. But unlike Carrie’s telekinetic powers, Dawn’s power, or predicament, for want of a better word, is based on myth – “Vagina Dentata”, and despite not being in control of it at the start, by the end we see Dawn can use it to her advantage or at least to get revenge so it becomes an empowering thing for Dawn and although we don’t find out what happens to Dawn as regards her future, the look she gives a dirty old man whose car she hitch-hikes in after he locks the doors, trapping her inside with him, is a telling one…
Critical reactions to Teeth were mixed, as you’d expect with a film like this, but mostly positive, with one review imagining Mitchell Lichtenstein describing it as “Jaws meets The Vagina Monologues” while pitching it to producers. And I suppose that isn’t far from the truth, in a way. While another review compared it to Juno, which made me wonder if the reviewer had actually even seen Teeth *or* Juno! Interesting reviews aside, one thing most reviews seemed united on was Jess Weixler’s performance as Dawn. Playing it, mostly, straight in a film that’s sometimes as over-the-top as Teeth can’t be easy but Our Jess did great. Especially seeing as those over-the-top moments are peppered with dark moments and themes throughout.
It’s no wonder that, despite not yet starring in a worldwide hit (such as Ellen Page in the aforementioned Juno, for example), she has been working regularly in indie-type films ever since as well as staring in some television series such as Law and Order, Medium and The Good Wife, proving that this US actress is quite a talent and worth keeping an eye on.
Overall, Teeth is dark and disturbing whilst being funny and entertaining, A perfect mix for genre fans then and well worth watching if you’ve yet to take a bite out of this unique and memorable film.
Are you a fan of Teeth? Think it has bite? Let us know.