Teeth may have been released in 2007 in the US, but Europe didn’t get to see this movie until 2008. And when I say Europe, I mean France and the UK. It had to do without a cinema release in Belgium or the Netherlands. Weirdly enough, the British censors stuck an 18 certificate to the movie and passed it uncut. The times have really changed, it appears, because the horror slash comedy Teeth contained some of the most twisted scenes of 2008.
Not that one should be surprised given the movie’s subject. Though the movie itself carefully beats around the bush for 37 minutes, by now most people will know – and even if you didn’t, it’s not much of a spoiler – about a quite peculiar girl with a vagina dentata.
Quite a number of horror movies comment on the times, in a way non-genre films cannot. The best known example is the “50s sci-fi” genre where atomic tests tended to result in abnormally large creatures. The result was that on the one hand you had a fun movie to watch, but on the other hand viewers got to think about those nuclear tests. Even if the message wasn’t as heavy-handed as in movies like Threads (a classic from the 80s), it was still there. Teeth visually refers to a couple of horror movies, the Hammer classic The Gorgon and the 50s horror The Black Scorpion (where sadly volcanic activity was the reason for these giant anomalies), but manages to include itself in the category of horror movies with a message.
The movie opens with adolescent Dawn (Jess Weixler) speaking to a group of teens about staying pure until you’re married. Sex is the main theme of the movie, whether it’s from people who plead for abstinence or people who’re extremely active sexually (e.g. Dawn’s stepbrother Brad, who refers to every girl as a ‘bitch’). At the same time these teenagers won’t get proper sex education in school. When the biology teacher goes from “the penis” to “erm… the… erm… female reproductive organs”, it’s not because of a sudden attack of shyness: as the kids turn the page, they see the entire page has a sticky star blocking the view of the vagina. Female sexuality has never been discussed so much and so little at the same time.
The movie opens with Dawn and Tobey as kids, playing in an inflated swimming pool. We cannot see it, but we hear Brad say that, because he’s shown her his, now she has to show him hers. The next thing we know Brad’s screaming like mad, allegedly because Dawn bit the top of his finger off.
Not much afterthought is spent on this (weirdly enough, one must remark) and it’s not until a highly abstinent Dawn is cornered by Tobey the dental problem pops up again. Tobey claimed to believe in abstinence and maybe part of him did, but when he and Dawn are making out he wants to take it to the next level. Well, levels. During a fight (in which he shouts “I haven’t even jerked off since Easter!” – which sounds slightly more impressive now than when I watched in film this summer) Dawn knocks her head and is semi-unconscious. Time for Tobey to stick ‘it’ in… and lose a lot of ‘it’.
disappears and Dawn is left confused as to what really happened. She decides to go to a gynaecologist, which sparks off a scene that clearly depicts the tone of the movie. The scene is nauseatingly bloody, funny and sad at the same time.
If you watch carefully, you’ll see how Dawn in the following scene is cycling home, passing a poster with a luscious female and the word “perfect”all over it. I’m thinking that was no coincidence and part of the film’s message.
My biggest problem with the film is that nearly every male Dawn encounters is only out to take sexual advantage of her. Alright, that may be slightly overrated and the movie seems to know that too: one of Dawn’s partners doesn’t seem out there to rape her and the big question (for you, Dawn and of course the boy himself) is whether her vagina will strike again if the sex isn’t assault-related. Allow me to leave that unanswered: let’s not spoil the movie.
The fact is that you’ll see a couple of bloody penises in Teeth, a movie that’s both dark and entertaining. Yes, the film hammers a bit too much on its message and avoids getting sidetracked (which for once could’ve been a bit of a blessing and give the movie less the feel of a manifesto). Nevertheless, there’s a key moment in the film where Dawn is trapped by a man and knows she’s about to be raped. She looks disturbed and anxious, a real damsel in distress, but suddenly her face changes: it has hit her that there will be grave consequences for anyone who tries to assault her. For that moment you’ll forgive the scenes where Teeth is out a bit too much to prove its point. It’s not a perfect film, but it found a truly innovative story for its social commentary and for that we applaud it.