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November 14, 2007

Denver International Film Festival - Teeth


Mitchell Lichtenstein - 2007
Roadside Attractions 35mm Film

Even if the narrative for Teeth did not evolve into a horror comedy, it would still be worth seeing for its portrayal of a young woman attempting to navigate her way through conflicting peer and family pressures. The film is noteworthy in how sympathetic the character of Dawn is presented. First introduced making a presentation at a purity pledge, what writer-director Lichtenstein gets right is the simulataneous sincerity and confusion of his main character. It's the kind of part that could have been written for easy laughs. Dawn is shown as caught between two extremes, finding that total abstinence is a challenge, but finding nothing of value in an alternative presented of sex without love, or a culture that objectifies women.

Teeth can be seen as the hybrid of David Cronenberg's earlier films of sexual horror, and Todd Haynes' suburban horror stories. The two towering smokestacks may be too obvious an indication that there is something in the air. The unidentified community is one where the high school that teenage Dawn attends has classes influenced by moral guardians who make sure that evolution is mentioned as one of several theories, and that the sex education classes keep the young women unaware of their own bodies. There is no clear explanation regarding Dawn's mutation, or as she puts it, adaptation. What is presented is a story of a young woman who initially regards her body with a sense of shame and horror, before developing a sense of self-acceptance followed by using her body for her own self-advantage.

Much of the credit for Teeth should go to Jess Weixler for keeping Dawn sympathetic. While there is some over the top humor when Dawn gets her first examination from a gynocologist, there is also poignancy, especially with the scenes of Dawn and her mysteriously ill mother. Teeth is often quite funny, but it also has some serious thoughts behind the laughs.

Hopefully the film will be released intact in its theatrical run. Teeth is graphic enough to show the results of Dawn's "adaptation" without dwelling too long on the bloody details. There are also a few jokes, both visual and verbal, at the expense of the guys who have gotten too close to Dawn. The biggest horror might be if Teeth fails to get the size of audience it deserves. Then again, smart films are not always popular films, and the audience that flocks to Hostel or Saw might feel that Teeth cuts too close to home.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 14, 2007 01:22 PM


This film marked my first attempt at wait-listing at my first-ever trip to Sundance this January. I just barely failed to make it into the screening. Hopefully it won't be my only chance to see it for myself!

Posted by: Brian at November 14, 2007 05:34 PM