"What have you put in there?"
Mitchell Lichtenstein's first feature length film as director starts off innocently enough - a blue skyline, giant funnels pumping out black smoke behind the family home. Our heroine Dawn is a toddler messing around in a paddling pool with her stepbrother - her parents look on. Her step-brother, not much older than Dawn, tries a little bit of the "I've shown you mine, now show me yours." He cries out in pain - his finger is cut. The scene is set. But for what? Don't worry, you'll see soon enough.
As a young woman Dawn, played by Jess Weixler, has emerged as her abstinence group's most down-to-earth spokesperson, delivering her chastity speech in a way that pupils can relate to. She is blossoming but still a geek - her group are picked on so regularly for their views that they are used to it. Lichtenstein puts us at ease instantly with his depiction of high school students - the classroom scenes are handled with skill and an eye for subtle, natural humour. Using some hilariously suggestive imagery (a gaping hole in a tree, drawings of female genitalia in textbooks censored by stickers), we start to get a hint that the film might be about Dawn's "gift" that she has vowed not to give away until marriage.
This is not your typical coming of age drama by any means. Dawn has several guys interested in her, but it is only after she is sexually assaulted by one of them does she realise that a certain part of her body has very dangerous qualities. There are elements of horror aswell, but no one particular theme emerges, making for a non-generic movie devoid of stereotypes. For me, I can't help thinking that Lichtenstein might have been inspired by 70's horror flicks, Abel Ferrara's indie exploitation movies like Ms 45 and Driller Killer, and Cronenberg's body-morphing dramas of the 80's. Blackly comic also, I was reminded of Thumbsucker and Donnie Darko - brooding teenagers discovering themselves, interspersed with scenes at school.
People, you need to see this film. Very graphic in places, Teeth has a lure that cannot be denied, a beyond-belief subject matter that our eyes want to see but our brains cannot cope with. So unbelievable, so darkly perverse yet sickly fulfilling, so "No. No way. Noooo!!!" but in a good way. We are treated to some fantastic performaces - a particularly sensitive one from Weixler as Dawn, and also from John Hensley as Brad, Dawn's moody, amorous stepbrother. Finally, we have an uncliched portrayal of a volatile stoner. Yes, it is possible. However, a word of warning: guys - you. are. not. ready. This film will hit you where it hurts in a way that no movie has done before. To say this is a cautionary tale would have to be the understatement of the millenium.
A fine inclusion in the resurgence of the revenge drama from the female perspective, trumping previous efforts such as Hard Candy and The Brave One, although ultimately we are talking abut three very different films here. Frank in parts, Teeth never loses its way, and always keeps you guessing. You are even lulled into thinking that some of the guys may have good intentions, but no, they're all bastards. Mitchell Lichtenstein has given us a unique film unhindered by Hollywood, without trying to make any kind of obvious statement. I laughed out loud and covered my mouth in horror and fascination. Really, what more could you want?