Dawn grows up in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. In high school, while her biology class studies evolution, she realizes she may have a hidden curse, an "adaptation." She lives with her mom, step-father, and hard-edged step-brother. She likes Tobey, a guy at school, and he likes her. She takes a pledge to remain chaste until marriage, so they date in groups, watch G-rated films, and don't kiss, but the power of teen hormones is great, so temptation beckons. Dawn has an admirer in Ryan, and when when things have an unexpected twist with Tobey, she turns to Ryan for help. Will he be her mythical hero and rescue her? Or can she find her way as her own hero, turning the curse into an asset?Written by
"Teeth" is a coming-of-age tale done in the spirit of "Carrie" (1976) in that it carefully examines a young girl becoming a woman. But "Carrie" had a twist: the protagonist Carrie White developed psychic powers, which she then used against the classmates who persistently tormented her. "Teeth" has a similar premise, one that's likely to instill castration anxiety in any oversexed male who watches it.
"Teeth" introduces the concept - for a wider audience - of "vagina dentata" (when translated from Latin, literally means "toothed vagina," as in females having a nifty set of teeth between their legs), the same vagina dentata of ancient mythology given to women as a physical advantage during sexual intercourse and is meant to ward off men from having sex with strange women and instill harsh feelings of castration anxiety in those oversexed men. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein takes his cues from "Carrie" and that ancient mythology to form the basis of his directorial debut; many may not know that "Teeth" is itself a remake of a small Japanese film called "Sexual Parasite: Killer Pussy" (2004) (I actually had to laugh at that title).
As a 22-year-old male virgin, some of what I saw in this picture is quite shocking and had me squirming in my seat on more than one occasion, trying to hold on to my manhood (so to speak) and enjoy a well-crafted coming-of-age horror-comedy. But the movie isn't about male-bashing, nor is it really about female empowerment. If you look hard enough, the movie is really about sexual violence, that is violence perpetrated by men upon women and vice versa. In this cinematic battle of the sexes, no one is really favored to win, although it's obvious that most men, young and old, will think twice about having sex with the film's female protagonist by the time the credits begin to roll.
The young heroine of "Teeth" is Dawn (Sundance Award-winner for Best Actress and - who some have called - Meryl Streep-in-training, Jess Weixler), a "pretty but prim" high school virgin who is hanging on to her sexual purity for dear life. In a tightly-knit Midwestern community that has ominous smoke stacks from the local chemical plant looming in the background, Dawn is the shining Christian example of abstinence at her school, where young men and women alike face all sorts of pressures to explore each others' bodies and let go of their virginity. In sex education courses, textbooks are featured that have taped-over diagrams of female genitalia but not male genitalia (a sexist double-standard?).
Things aren't much better at home. The film opens with a rather disturbing childhood incident between Dawn and her step-brother Brad that renders him without the tip of one of his fingers. Now an adult, the psychotic and heavily tattooed Brad (John Hensley) spends his days doing his girlfriend in his bedroom while harboring incestuous feelings toward Dawn.
Dawn only feels the sexual urges to let go of chastity getting stronger when she begins dating the like-minded Tobey (Hale Appleman), who eventually confesses to her that he's not a virgin; she isn't put off by the news, however. One thing leads to another and the two wind up in the sack, but when she rejects him, he forces himself upon her and - chomp! - no more Mr. Willy-Willy for Tobey. It is at this point that any males in the audience are likely to start squirming in their seats when they realize that Dawn has been gifted - or cursed? - with the Toothed Vagina of ancient mythology, and she then begins to use this new physical ability to her advantage against the horny young men who try to get in her pants without her express permission.
"Teeth" is not a particularly well-written first feature, since it can't decide what it wants to be - a horror film, a comedy, or a mix of both - and this is the film's only really big weakness. So, we have to take it for what it is: a horror-comedy. Jess Weixler is phenomenal; I'm not sure if she's really a young Meryl Streep-in-training, but she is a young actress to keep an eye out for and her Sundance award for Best Actress was well-deserved. Like Carrie, you sympathize with the heroine, even as she comes to terms with her new physical ability and blossoming sexuality, and uses them both against her tormentors. I've already pointed out the parallels to Carrie White, but it is pretty clear Lichtenstein is familiar with that story to at least draw some distinctions from that and "Killer Pussy."
The film never really explores the extent of Dawn's Toothed Vagina or how she even achieved it, although there are a few clues here and there. It can be inferred that the vagina dentata are perhaps the next stage in the evolution of the female body (as explained in biology class). Or, are they simply a mutation caused by exposure to harmful chemicals put in the air by the local chemical plant? It's never really explained, and that's a good thing. Lastly, "Teeth" also has a lot of exposed flesh - male and female - and some pretty gruesome special effects sequences (though, weirdly enough, we never actually see Dawn's gift) that'll have any oversexed guys out there thinking twice about asking that pretty but strange new girl out for a date.
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