Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 28 January 2007
Source 35mm print
Features: The 2007 Sundance Film Festival
One of the most talked-about movies at Sundance this year, Teeth plays like a strange hybrid of Evil Dead II, Saved!, and Carrie. The film opens with a sweeping pan of a small town with a nuclear power plant looming in the background. The music accompanying this scene calls to mind Bernard Hermann’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock, but lest this sound overly ominous, writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein employs bright, cheerful hues to capture the leaves on trees and the blue of a wading pool in which two young children sit nearby. This juxtaposition is a fitting one, for the director expertly merges sunny, campy humor with a darker, more graphic story about sexual power.
After a title sequence recalling that of Fight Club (a fitting homage, as both movies share a preoccupation with gender roles), the audience is introduced to Dawn, a pretty blonde teenager who delivers upbeat lectures to Christian youth groups about the importance of abstaining from premarital sex. Her vow of chastity, however, is put to the test when she meets Tobey, an earnest, handsome young man who instantly sweeps her off her feet. Despite her strong feelings, Dawn treads cautiously into the relationship, for she senses there’s something unique about her body, and is unsure of the consequences of consummating their relationship. When the two go to a local cave to make out (let’s just say Lichenstein isn’t one for understatement; he also prominently features primitive worldbeat music in the film’s score), Tobey’s behavior takes an aggressive turn, leading Dawn to discover – quite accidentally – that she is in possession of what is known in mythology as vagina dentata.
While she initially horrified by this discovery, it doesn’t take long for her to realize that her body can be used as a weapon. As the horror genre is littered with images of nubile young women being raped, tortured, and mutilated, Dawn’s empowerment proves a refreshing change of pace. In Lichtenstein’s world, almost all the men are predators, but here the woman refuses to accept her status as prey. That said, Teeth is often played for laughs, and in the role of Dawn, actress Jess Weixler proves a formidable comic talent, flawlessly channeling the ups and downs of the sunny teenager’s awakening. Still, beneath the movie’s bright-surface lurks a dark feminist fable about the consequences of objectifying women.