Teeth poster

“Vagina Dentata! Vagina Dentata!” So screams an unfortunately lascivious gynecologist in a key scene of this dark high school comedy billed as a horror film (mistakenly by reviewers, intentionally by the distributors). And from the opening scene (a twisted parody of typical suburban Americana) to the blatant title, everything about this film seems to mimic that scream, albeit, in a slightly subtler manner. Yes, Teeth is a film about vagina dentata, and isn’t afraid to flaunt it.

Like Heathers and Donnie Darko before it, Teeth manages (with a few over-the-top stylistic choices) to capture the essence of high school: the awkwardness, the attitudes, and the discovery of budding sexuality… especially the discovery of budding sexuality. Our lead, Dawn (Jess Weixler), is the epitome of the “good girl” caricature: a vocal proponent of abstinence, she draws wedding dresses in her school notebooks and can hardly muster up the venom to utter “Gosh!” when offended. But when she’s introduced to new kid Tobey (Hale Appleman) at a church abstinence rally (where else?), their eyes lock and Dawn discovers hidden teenage hormones she thought she could control. And as the title of the film suggests, that’s not all she discovers.

When her first sexual experience goes awry, Dawn begins to realize (a bit too late) that what she has between her legs just might be a bit different than other girls. In a world where abstinence-only sex education is being pushed on schools (in the film a giant gold sticker has been placed by a recent court ruling over the vagina illustration in the class’s health textbooks), Dawn’s late discovery of her own sexuality is almost believable. Throw in her devout (though non-denominational) religious fervor and it’s an acceptable premise that this girl has honestly never considered her own nether regions. And once writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein has viewers buying into this premise, he lets the audience, and his heroine, have it.

As if her hidden condition is something that horny males can sniff out, suddenly it seems like every guy that Dawn runs into wants to make a pass at her. And these aren’t your typical fumbling high school boy passes. No, these guys want to get down and dirty, whether Dawn wants to or not. And though Dawn still doesn’t quite understand her own abnormality, she begins to wield her newfound weapon with a bloody vengeance. In the final gory scene of Hostel II, Lauren German’s character uses a giant pair of scissors to remove the genitalia of her former captor. While that scene was painful to watch, and the special effects had the squeamish on their toes, it’s only an introduction to the havoc Dawn wreaks here (with the help of a top notch, if low budget, special effects team).

Dissenters might say that this entire film rides on the garish gimmick of toothed genitalia. And while those claims may be somewhat valid for a movie that bases its main plotline around such a novelty, I would argue that these viewers are missing a much deeper layer of the film. Underneath the disturbing gore and snapping vagina teeth there lies a very real story of a nervous young girl trying to maintain her sense of self and relative naïvete while exploring her newfound sexuality. In each of Dawn’s sexual encounters, it is easy to see how, without the addition of her hidden razor-sharp teeth, she would have been an unprotected, and probably unreported, victim of sexual assault. But instead of a masked crusader (or some other equally masculine figure) swooping in to save the day, Dawn is able to defend herself by taking matters into her own hands…er teeth.

By the end of the film, Dawn has become a heroine from another age: an independent woman with a heart of gold and a you-know-what full of teeth. Unlike most sex-related films, Lichtenstein exploits his male characters far more than his females. When Dawn and Tobey are talking on their cell phones in their respective locker rooms, it’s the guys behind Tobey that are strutting around naked rather than the girls behind Dawn. Additionally, nearly every guy in the film ends up with at least one partially nude scene, though his penis might not necessarily be attached to his body at the time. High art this is not, but Teeth does make for thrilling social commentary, for those who can stomach it.

Zach’s Rating: B-
Perfect For: Envelope-pushers
Stay Away if: You’re afraid of a movie that does for having sex what Jaws did for going to the beach

To purchase Teeth, visit Amazon

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