Teeth is one of those films, like The Human Centipede, which gained immediate notoriety thanks to its shocking premise. But once you delve deeper inside this 2007 comedy/horror film, it’s a lot more interesting than its reputation suggests.
It’s probably not a spoiler to reveal said premise – that a teenage girl called Dawn (Jess Weixler) discovers she has a condition called vagina dentata. You don’t need to be fluent in Latin to work that one out. She’s also deeply religious and committed to abstinence, but when she starts to develop feelings for her new classmate Tobey (Hale Appleman), there’s something of a cock-up.
This religious angle gives Teeth its biting satire, through which writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein appears to be calling for more liberal attitudes towards sex and better sex education. Backward attitudes are mocked and the thorny American issue of teaching evolution in schools is parodied. That Dawn lives in the shadow of a nuclear power plant suggests that hers is some sort of manmade mutation. But the film is also sympathetic, developing Dawn’s character well with a great performance from Weixler, and putting an interesting spin on the rape-revenge sub-genre. There are Cronenbergian themes of body horror and the fear of sex, again criticising archaic attitudes and exploring ideas of womanhood and femininity.
As you’d expect from the film’s concept, it’s very funny, in a very sick way. There are moments which elicit that lovely combination of laughter followed by a feeling of disgust. First and foremost though, Teeth is shocking, in a good way. Most horror films tend to feel the same, toeing the same formula with the same lack of ideas. This is different, remaining completely weird and bold – with plenty of penis humour thrown in. It’s a film which sinks its teeth into ideas of purity and puberty, sharply criticising religion and incisively exploring feminism – making it thematically similar to something like Carrie, looking at those same ideas in a way that’s more interesting than simply remaking it. Or it’s just a flinchtasticly entertaining B movie about a girl with teeth in her vagina.
My only complaint lies not with the movie, but with a quote on the DVD case from Front Magazine, who call Teeth: “Sexy, nasty and bitingly funny.” I take no issue with the second two, but is it sexy? Far be it from me to judge what someone finds sexy, but this is a film about men getting their cocks bitten off by a vagina. That’s definitely a niche sexual interest. Or maybe I’m just a prude.