Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Teeth (2007)

"Alright, let's take a look at that bergina..."

You've probably heard the theory that slasher films are all about punishing women for their sexuality. When the killer is stabbing some cowering, promiscuous cheerleader with a big, fat knife he's actually stabbing her with a big, fat penis (in her metaphorical vagina). I guess Leatherface wins for most over-compensatory weapon, although I seem to remember Jason Voorhees using a weed trimmer at some point. He must have been feeling a bit insecure that day. I can buy that theory, but I still don't believe that slasher films are inherently misogynistic. Half of the victims are usually men, portrayed just as unsympathetically as the women I might add, and the hero is usually a woman. True she is usually a "good girl" character, but strong, capable and sympathetic as well. What's more, if a slasher film is doing its job, you should be siding with the victim anyway. You shouldn't be cheering when the victim is killed, you should be wincing. Aaaanyway, Teeth is a film that attempts to turn this whole slasher stereotype on it's head.

Dawn O'Keefe is playing in a kiddie pool with her new step-brother Brad, the twin stacks of a nuclear power plant looming behind them. A game of "doctor" turns sour and Brad gets a nasty cut on his finger. Cut to several years later and Dawn (Jess Weixler) has become one of those creepy abstinence kids, handing out "promise rings" to bible-quoting youngsters. She is wholly afraid of her own body, and can't even masturbate without visions of toothy maws spoiling the mood. Her brother, meanwhile, has turned into an unbelievable prick. I don't know if it's intentional, but the guy playing Brad (John Hensley) doesn't look like a tough guy at all. He's covered in tattoos and piercings, but he looks like a soft guy trying to look tough, rather than the genuine article. He spends his time fucking his long-suffering girlfriend and menacing his caged rottweiler.

It's only later, when Dawn is raped by one of her supposedly abstinent chums, that she discovers the true ramifications of her mutation. Vagina Dentata, the mythological embodiment of man's fear of female sexuality. The mythology is all explained in voice-over when Dawn does a web search on some phony generic search engine (come on people, just use Google), how the Vagina Dentata is something to be "conquered" by a worthy hero. I wish they hadn't spelled all this out so plainly, but there are also some really neat touches about gender politics, like the fact that their anatomy textbooks have diagrams of female genitalia censored with big stickers that Dawn has to soak off in the sink.

So with all this setup, I assumed that her mutation was going to be used as an allegory for a teenage girl coming to terms with her sexuality. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really take that path. Instead it meanders through a series of sexual assaults (each perpetrator receiving his gory comeuppance) with Dawn ultimately becoming some sort of agent of vengeance, seducing and punishing evil men. I suppose it's to the movie's credit that I really wished things had turned out better for her. I was a little sad that her reactions to the mutilations become increasingly glib and callous. I kept hoping that eventually she was going to meet a guy who wasn't a horrible rapist, and maybe come to terms with her "gift", but almost every guy she meets attempts to rape her. It's a pretty paranoid representation of men (especially the gynocologist, I bet the Ob-gyn Society is happy about that one), but I don't really see how else her mutation is going to come into play. Thankfully, the rape scenes are never graphic or played for titillation. We only see Weixler naked at one point and it's separate from any sex scene.

This film is well made and looks great, aside from a goofy looking computer composite here and there. Acting can get pretty broad and cheesy (this is a B-horror film, after all) but Weixler is great as Dawn. It doesn't hold anything back during the scenes of genital mutilation, so some of the guys in the audience might be wincing during a few scenes. I've never seen a film where a dog eats a severed dick before. Not since Hostel 2, anyway. So yeah, I really enjoyed this film. I wish it were a little more substantial (Dawn's relationship with her parents, for example, is never really explored), but as a horror film it's a lot of fun. I'd also like to point out that I got through this whole review without using a horrible tooth-related pun (a film with bite, something to sink your teeth into etc). Hope you appreciate it.

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