Thursday, September 24, 2009

WARNING: Sex Changes Everything

My standard spoiler alert applies. It's not a play-by-play but I say my piece.

WARNING: Sex Changes Everything

For my Alaskan dear, Heather, I've taken up the pen, whatever. It has been quite a while since I've written one of these, and while I do mean a film review I also mean a deliciously sardonic one. Do not misunderstand me. I won't be going all out Marta Alicia-vicera-in-the-face sarcastic with this one, because I actually find a lot of redeeming qualities in this film...outside of sheer campy amusement. However, there is simply no way to accept this film without embracing the dark humor of it and just rolling with the weirdness.

The film itself defies genre. Is it horror? Is it comedy? Is it a coming of age tale? Most definitely it is all three, and no single description. And just to get the bad puns out of the way right now:

It's a film with a biting wit, written and directed with some serious teeth.

I'm done with the bad jokes. OK...just the REALLY bad jokes. I can't account for the rest of the attempts at humor to follow.

I was intrigued to check out this film on the query of my friend Heather, as mentioned. What really sealed it for me, however, was not the trailer so much as the discovery that the film was featured and WON awards at BOTH The Sundance Film Festival AND The Fangoria Horror Fest. I mean, let's be often does that happen? Exactly.

"Dentata. It's Latin for teeth. It's what's inside of me." -Dawn

So a horror movie titled TEETH, seems fairly unsuspecting on the surface, right? Probably some horribly over-bloody latex-fest with oogedy boogedy monsters and lots of big sharp pointy fangs. No. No. No...and Not that we're shown. What the preview does show you is a glimpse of every man's deepest darkest fear. Beautiful, nubile girl. Blonde, blue-eyed, pink pouty lips. She's a virgin....and her vagina bites off her gynocologist's hand.

I'll give you a minute.

The appropriate responses to that scene would be a healthy mixture of horrified "what the fuck!'s" and inane, childish giggling because if you don't manage to muster both of those, there is something seriously wrong with you. This, my friends, is just the preview. Just a 30 second teaser to 2007's Indy gem, TEETH.

Written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, TEETH is his feature film debut. The star is the cherubic Jess Weixler, a Julliard graduate who has already amassed nearly more awards than roles, including the Sundance award for her performance in TEETH. It is truly these two that bring the bizarre magic to the film.

"That's what the ring is all about. The way it wraps around your finger - that's to remind you to keep your gift wrapped. Wrapped... until the day... you trade it in for that other ring. That gold ring. Get it?" -Dawn

As a coming of age tale, TEETH centers around a beautiful young teen, Dawn. A prominent leader of the school's chastity club, a compelling speaker about the virtues of purity and abstinence, Dawn is also a child of the nuclear family. Her single mother married a single father with a son...a son with a mildly disturbing affinity for his step-sister Dawn, which began at a very tender young age. Dawn's deep seeded beliefs in purity and virtue could stem from a psychological need to distance herself from her life in a run down rancher under the shadow of a nuclear power plant, her mother's deteriorating illness or from her disturbed brother's love of loud, vulgar music, violent pets and equally loud, vulgar and violent sex-romps with his girlfriend. However her strict adherence isn't so much a fanatical counter-reaction as a genuine naivete, which is wholly evident in a scene in which Dawn uncovers a detailed diagram of the vulva, a region she has obviously never really seen before. The wonder, curiosity and, indeed, the admiration in her eyes is all too genuine and a credit to miss Weixler's acting ability, as it most definitely solidifies the reality of this character's genuine purity.

Now I must take an aside here to comment on the absolutely hilarious build-up to this incredibly touching moment. I do so, not to spoil it for you, but simply as a personal commentary on the public education system and why I can honestly believe that this film may well have been made in my home state of Pennsylvania. During sex education class, Dawn's teacher has them all staring wide-eyed at an incredibly graphic drawing of the male reproductive organs (internal and external, both flaccid and erect). He then trips over his tongue when telling them to turn the page to the female reproductive organs, unable to even get the words out, which is succinctly supplied by a male student.

"You mean the VULVA?" -Ryan

When the page is revealed the students bemoan that every book is covered with a sticker making the actual drawing nothing but a giant silver starburst. Then the teacher informs them that the state education board does not allow any representation of female genitalia to be shown to students as it constitutes pornography. Angered, the students try to rip the stickers off only to rip the page. It is later in the film that Dawn soaks her page in water so as to easily slide the sticker away and view what, until then, had never been seen. This sequence in the film as a whole was so beautifully executed for the satirical aspects of both humor and a scathing commentary on the absurdity of the American educational stance on sexuality, something which really serves as a theme throughout the film. This duality of acceptance and openness between male sexuality and female is so starkly contrasting in American society that it seems perfectly sane that a horror film about a penis-eating, fanged vagina would be made. Thank Mitch Lichtenstein, however, for making it a satirical one, and not pandering to the puritanical conservatives who would still rather spend millions on Abstinence education than allow financially self-sustaining condom machines in the boys bathrooms.

Aside finished.

"The toothed vagina appears in the mythology of many and diverse cultures all over the world. In these myths, the story is always the same. The hero must do battle with the woman." -Dawn

So in the midst of this coming-of-age story, as young Dawn begins to discover her own sexuality, there is, of course, the horror element. The film is, after all, called TEETH. It is only after a romantic swim and kissy-cuddle when Dawn's crush does what is far too often the case with young men and presumes that he is then OWED sexual gratification. The build up to this scene has the audience at several points thinking "it's gonna happen now. No? It'll happen...NOW!" So by the time it does happen and under the circumstances that the violence occurs there is a strange sense of satisfaction. Now I don't say this as some kind of misandrist proclaiming castration as the most righteous judgment to be handed down upon misguided men. It's a fictional tale, with a heroine. There needs to be some form of villain in this fantastical tale, so for the sake of catharsis: boy shoulda kept it in his pants. And indeed, it is only those who inflict themselves upon Dawn that come to suffer.

In terms of horror films, TEETH is relatively mild. There is a little blood but overall its not graphic. There is the obligatory titty shot and what would a cheesy horror flick be without teenage sex? So yes, it has all these. It is, however, a horror film that does not take itself too seriously. Lichtenstein shows an obvious tongue in cheek approach when he ends the film with a dirty old toothless man who seems to be enjoying his freedom to make lewd gestures far too much to really be intimidating at all. One must wonder though if the director's aim in making TEETH was merely to mock society's often absurd views of sexuality or if, in Freudian fashion, he purports the eternal power women hold over men-- the ability to deny a man what he so desperately thinks he wants. The myth of Vagina Dentata, as he made sure to point out however, gives hope to men of honest and goodly intention. Be the hero that conquers her heart...and you can keep your manhood intact.