Teeth

Cast:
Jess Weixler as Dawn
John Hensley as Brad
Josh Pais as Dr. Godfrey
Hale Appleman as Tobey Cobb
Vivienne Benesch as Kim
Leslie Dawn Forsyth as Nurse
Julia Garro as Gwen
Trent Moore as Mr. Vincent

Directed by Mitchell Litchenstein

(Note: Parts of this review were originally run as part of ComingSoon.net.’s Sundance 2007 coverage.)

Story:
Besides living in the suburbs in the shadow of a nuclear reactor, Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a normal teen girl who has taken an oath of abstinence until she gets married, an oath she’s unable to keep when she learns that she’s different from other girls in ways that might make sex difficult for any prospective partners.

Analysis:
One of the films that had huge buzz at last year’s Sundance Film Festival finally gets a theatrical release nearly a year later, but considering the film’s disturbing subject matter about a carnivorous vagina, the correct medical term for what’s long been considered an urban myth being “Vagina dentata,” it’s not too big a surprise that it’s taken so long for the movie to see the light of day. After all, the movie’s best scene involve Dawn using her special talents to prevent perverts from having their way with her. It’s the stuff of midnight movies where you know something’s going to happen and you’re just waiting for the steel trap to close shut on whatever unfortunate male has decided to stick some appendage where it doesn’t belong. (Lionsgate and the Weinstein Company shared the cost when picking the movie up at Sundance but Roadside Attractions is releasing it theatrically due to the NC-17 content.)

“Teeth” takes place in a small idyllic suburb with a nearby nuclear power plant looming ominously in the background, the home of Dawn (newcomer Jess Weixler) leader of a youth group called The Promise, who have taken an oath of abstinence from sex until they’re married. When Dawn meets the dreamy Toby, they try to resist temptation, but before Dawn can rethink her sacred vow, Toby forces himself on her during a grotto rendezvous and Dawn’s genital defense mechanism claims its first victim, causing her to realize maybe she’s really not normal.

While the notion of a carnivorous vagina makes for equal parts terror and hilarity, for at least 40 minutes, Mitchell Lichtenstein goes more for a horror-tinged twist on the typical teen coming-of-age story that’s as much about the horrors of having sex as it is about the horrors of abstinence and celibacy. It’s not altogether clear which because both seem like scary prospects to Dawn and the guys who hover around her, including one who gets a bit farther than the others. Lichtenstein certainly knows how to play the premise up for great laughs in building the suspense up to when those jaws snap shut with lots of subtle hints and visual gags that will get a chuckle from those who know the premise going into the movie.

Once “Teeth” starts following a more definitive horror path, it features lots of nasty, graphic gore whenever Dawn’s “vagina dentata” claims a victim, but even that’s played up for laughs from the absurdity of it. (“Basket Case” is as good a reference as any.) Just when you think that they won’t show the gruesome results of each “attack”, they do, making it that much funnier. The young guys that try to have sex with Dawn get it pretty bad, but none seems more deserving than Josh Pais as a sleazy gynecologist who abuses his position in one of the most disturbing and funniest scenes of the movie.

Jess Weixler is an amazing find, and possibly the best thing going for the movie. With the looks and talent of a younger Uma Thurman or Reese Witherspoon, she does a great job keeping the movie going as a seemingly innocent teen girl who starts freaking out when she learns of the implications of her anatomical mutation. Here’s hoping she’ll be finding more great roles like this one.

The movie does go on for maybe 10 more minutes than it should and its creepy subplot involving Dawn’s incestuous evil half-brother Brad, who has a proclivity for anal sex after an incident while playing “doctor” with his younger step-sister, takes things too far into territory that’s best not to think about. The movie is fun enough that when it leaves things open-ended for a possible sequel, you’ll be psyched to see Dawn and her “friend” hit the road and claim more deserving victims.

The Bottom Line:
“Teeth” is more funny than scary, keeping the viewer entertained with a mix of suspense and humor that puts it into similar territory as “Fido” or “Slither.” Unfortunately, it starts to run out of steam before the end when it has trouble figuring out how to take things to the next level. Either way, men and women will probably react differently to the movie’s premise. While men are likely to be holding their crotch anytime Dawn’s “jaw” snaps shut, women will probably find themselves rooting for Dawn and able to relate to her situation, making “Teeth” one of those rare horror movies that’s non-gender specific. It’s not exactly “date night” material though, because it’s doubtful anyone will be having sex right after seeing it.

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