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Movies Review

Teeth

By
Teeth
Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Screenwriter: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Starring: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Hale Appleman
Running Time: 93 mins
Certificate: 18

As the living embodiment of the vagina dentata myth, it was inevitable that Teeth's protagonist Dawn (Jess Weixler), a chipper high school chastity group leader, wouldn't remain abstinent for very long. As she embarks on a blossoming romance with new boy Tobey (Hale Appleman), her initial resistance becomes a source of frustration to him. It is in a secluded cave - where Tobey decides to force himself on Dawn - that the film's titular teeth take their first horrific bite.

From then we follow the sexually-awakened lead character as she encounters a series of unpleasant men who try to take advantage of her apparent naivety. Dawn's creepy gynecologist (Josh Pais), nerdy classmate Ryan (Ashley Simpson) and even stepbrother Brad - a memorable, scenery-chewing performance from John Hensley - are all destined for a comeuppance.

Squirm inducing and hilarious in equal measure, Teeth may carry a bizarre premise but, like all good B-movies should, it successfully pushes the boundaries of acceptable taste. Working on multiple levels, Teeth ticks boxes as a '50s, Roger Corman-style exploitation throwback, an unnerving psychological horror and a satire on middle-American values.

The film has been floating around in UK release limbo for some time (perhaps in part due to uncertainty on how to best market it) after initially making waves at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007. Its trailers pitch it as a teen horror film, however it operates more potently as a dark comedy. Granted its humour is about as jet-black as you can get, but it fits more aptly into that genre than any other.

At times it's as traumatic a watch for male viewers as 2005's Hard Candy, yet sets itself apart from David Slade's film by being less direct, that little bit more playful. Knowing full well that his story strains plausibility, writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein's script is self-aware, offering knowing winks to the audiences and diffusing gruesome lacerations with humour ("I'm not going to bit ya!" remarks the doomed gynecologist Dr. Godfrey).

Leading lady Jess Weixler gives a standout turn as Dawn, capably taking the character from do-gooder to deadly Lolita. It's the kind of performance she may have trouble shaking off but one that has no doubt opened a lot of doors for her.

Teeth is an impressive first feature from actor-turned-filmmaker Lichtenstein. As the son of legendary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, it's a little disappointing that he utilises such a drab colour palette. Though his opening Hitchcock-evoking scene - an establishing pan across the suburban setting for the story, accompanied by dramatic Bernard Hermann-like strings - shows that he's inherited his father's knack for image composition.

A lack of visual dynamism is a minor quibble considering how enjoyable the rest of the film is - yet Teeth shot with the urgency and vigour that Sam Raimi injected into his Evil Dead series could have made it even better. Nevertheless, the film is smartly written, inventive and wickedly funny.

Wrapping men's intimacy anxieties around a girl empowerment parable, Teeth is full of surprises, cunningly flipping genre stereotypes and defying expectations. While probably too lurid and graphic for the mainstream's tastes, it's one of those films that has a genuine shot at acquiring cult classic status.

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