Friday, June 27, 2008

Teeth (Lichtenstein, 2007)

I could be completely predictable and say this is a film with ‘bite’...but really, I wouldn’t be lying.

Teeth tells the tale of Dawn, a young girl repressing her own sexuality who discovers she is the literal embodiment of vagina dentata after a horrendous sex attack (is there any other kind?). Her discovery leaves her confused but eventually empowered.

Vagina dentata. Sounds like a topic for exploitation cinema to me, but Teeth, while at times very funny and fantastically gross, plays it straight. The balance is right, and I think in no way better exemplified than by the scene of Dawn’s discovery of her secret. She is attacked, and her natural defense mechanism does its thing. Now, penile dismemberment is always going to be funny on the big screen. Between the blood and the screaming and the audience’s shock, the effect is one of laughter. And so Dawn runs back home, and you’re still kinda thinking “haha! that guy had his dick bitten off!” Then Dawn takes a shower and you realise: I’m laughing at the guy for getting what he deserved: you go, girl! – and you remember that she was just raped.

The attacks in the film aren’t funny. Dawn’s own, odd, repression isn’t funny. These aren’t the things that need to be funny – Dawn’s strength of character leads to some funny moments. When she realises that, actually, she can have sex and not go straight to hell for it, we’re happy for her. We’re even happier when the man she chooses to sleep with turns out to be an idiot that suddenly, her secret is her power. And when men lucky enough to survive encounters with Dawn are ultimately humiliated on the operating table – we’re laughing.

The film is disturbing enough, too. The gynacology scene in the film is incredibly difficult to watch, but more subtle is Dawn’s step-brother, Brad, who has clearly developed several complexes* due to Dawn’s secret – before Dawn herself is even aware of it. And when he meets his commupence – we’re laughing, but we really know we shouldn’t be.

Jess Wiexler is fantastic as Dawn, making a character that could’ve come across as incredibly stuck up immensely likeable; the supporting characters are all suitably grey. Michael Lichtenstein skillfully blends more surreal moments with the mostly realistic shooting. Some very simple shots are the most memorable – Dawn in the bath, for example – and a simple score underlines the importance of character to Teeth’s success.

*He owns a female rotweiller named 'Mother' and keeps her in a cage, for crying out loud.

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