2007, R, 87 min. Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein. Starring Jess Weixler, Hale Appleman, Vivienne Benesch, Lenny von Dohlen, John Hensley.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 25, 2008
Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of pop art godhead Roy, takes the thrusting, violence-implicit, and pointedly sexualized imagery of his father's famed Whaam! canvas several seriocomic steps further into the realm of cinematic literalism: Teeth, shot in and around Austin, leaves marks both figuratively and literally. In the process, it also explodes the dual myths of sexual freedom and freedom from sex while making castration anxiety and teen-female empowerment fun – or at least weird – again. Weixler embodies abstemious good-girl Dawn with just the right amount of repressed naivete to make things semibelievable when she discovers, to her horror, that her naughty bits are bitey. She's the living embodiment of the vagina dentata (literally, "toothed vagina") myth, and as such, her incipient lust-crush over new-geek-at-school Appleman leads from blue lagoon to black and beyond. As if hormones weren't hell enough, Dawn is also saddled with a vile stepbrother whose most fervent wish is to deflower his virginal relation. Played to the death-metal hilt by Nip/Tuck's Hensley – who could also double as a young Jello Biafra in I Was a Teenage Dead Kennedy – this evil sib almost steals the show, until his pet rottweiler beats him at his own game. As an ultradark comedy pitched somewhere between the transgressive spot gags of Charles Addams and Sam Gross (with a healthy dose of John Waters salt-of-the-earth lasciviousness sprinkled throughout), Teeth is all over the tonal map, veering from surrealistic ABC After School Special-ness to crimson-drenched Grand Guignol atrocity exhibitionism, often in the same scene. In any other film I'd say that was a flaw, or at the very least the sign of a conflicted script or muddled directorial viewpoint, but Teeth's whirling moral compass actually provides the perfect metaphor for the teenage sexual urge in postpubescent overdrive. Dawn's dimpled, wholesome, all-American exterior conceals the lurking erotic fear and body-loathing within to an extent that would make Shivers-era David Cronenberg proud. Reflecting the jungle laws of its high school setting, Lichtenstein's gleeful and polymorphously perverse take on the eternal quandry that is teen sexuality pits the revealed against the reviled, loved vs. loathed, and girl vs. boy(s). Tellingly, however, Lichtenstein opts out of showing Dawn's brave new snatch, although plenty of severed male members litter the screen. Turnabout is fair play, to be sure, but ultimately virtually everyone in Teeth ends up using sex as a weapon, edged or otherwise, to the detriment of all concerned. Just say "Ow."