Genre: Drama, Satire, Horror
Director(s): Mitchell Lichtenstein
Writer(s): Mitchell Lichtenstein
Cast: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Hale Appleman, Ashley Springer
Summary: Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a young, Christian girl who is obsessed with abstinence and speaks for a youth-based purity group. On one hand, she is child-like and innocent, while, on the other, she is frustratingly condescending and tense due to her “sacred vow.” Yet, despite her feelings of constraint, she clings to her purity ring in order to get through her troubled home life, where her mother is bedridden by cancer and her step-brother (John Hensley) constantly smokes weed, clashes with their parents, and has sex with his awful girlfriend. When Dawn meets a young boy named Tobey (Hale Appleman), she falls head-over-heels in love due to his kindness, shy nature, and shared belief in chastity, but, at the same time, must struggle with the emerging sexual desires she feels towards him. Riddled by guilt and confusion, she has several encounters with Tobey that lead her to a gruesome and horrifying discovery: she suffers from a legendary condition called vagina dentata, or, “vaginal teeth” that turn her into a literal femme fatale.
John Hensley bites off more than he can chew in Lichtenstein‘s Teeth.
Review: First off, I find it necessary to warn people who are squeamish when it comes to violence and/or sex that they should steer clear of Teeth, because, while the nuclear power plants that constantly appear in the background suggest a cause for Dawn’s deformity, this story is not a satire on science — it’s a coming-of-age story of sexual discovery and self-acceptance.
Dawn, especially in the beginning, is often a dislikeable character due to her holier-than-thou attitude and obsessive nature (she won’t even watch a PG-13 film), but, following the cruelty she faces and her subsequent discovery of her “adaptation,” I truly feel empathy for her and her situation. She is, honestly, just a little girl trapped inside of a teenager’s body, despairing over her mother’s illness and the sexual abuse that is suddenly thrust upon her on many occasions. Growing up and discovering one’s sexuality is never easy for anyone, and Teeth reminds us that, in a world where there’s no person to guide you, it can become devastating. A toothed vagina is a gut-wrenching concept that causes one to recoil and is meant to inspire in us the same level of disgust that Dawn feels towards regular sexuality — it’s not merely impure, it’s evil and dangerous.
Jess Weixler’s performance is incredibly convincing: I begin to share Dawn’s fears, and believe her to be a young woman who is slowly descending into sexual deviancy and violence as a means of escape. John Hensley also delivers an impressive performance as Dawn’s twisted step-brother, exhibiting his own perversions and aggression, and, as repulsive as it may be, he plays a man who’s obsessed with his too-young step-sister quite well. Also, Hale Appleman and Ashley Springer both fair well in their pushy, sexually-repressed roles.
On a side note, the cinematography is fairly striking and the editing appropriately timed, but the soundtrack is just really odd and often feels out of place.
Overall, Teeth is a film of sexual fear and discovery, empty human relationships and twisted legends, and, while I wish I could say it portrayed its message subtly, I can’t: you see the results of her toothed vagina’s wrath several times. That said, the gore never prevents the film from being emotional and delivering its difficult message: while being obsessively abstinent leads to emotional turmoil and threatening naivity, being openly sexual can be even more dangerous and harmful. It was unquestionably thought-provoking and perhaps one of the best satires I’ve watched in a while.