31 Days of Reviews: Teeth (2007)

After being raped, a young woman discovers that she has teeth in her vagina. She embarks on a journey of revenge against the men who have wronged her.

I’ve wanted to see this film for years. It’s always grabbed my interest. I have absolutely no idea why it has taken me this long to finally see it. In any case, I watched it today. It will finally be included in my reviews.

Teeth is a 2007 film, directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein. It stars Jess Weixler (The Son). It also features roles played by John Hensley (Nip/Tuck), Hale Appleman (The Magicians), Joe Pais (Going in Style), Ashley Springer (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Lenny Von Dohlen (Twin Peaks).

The film explores the folk tale of vagina dentata, the toothed vagina. There is some form of this story in a ton of cultures. In many of these cases, it’s a precautionary tale for men to avoid strange women and to discourage rape. In some of the cases, the teeth are a villain to be conquered by men. Needless to say, Teeth was definitely going to have some sort of attempted subtext.

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I wasn’t sure exactly what tone this film was going to have with its subject matter. Through the sometimes exaggerated music, I picked up that it was going to be a dark comedy pretty early on. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. For something as exaggerated as this, the dark comedy approach really seems like the best possibility. It gives a lot of freedom to push the boundaries.

The way I see it, there are many levels of subtext that can be inferred through this film.

The main character, Dawn, is a spokesperson for abstinence and purity. She doesn’t know much about her body because that knowledge could be construed as dirty or immodest. This is best illustrated when a textbook page on the female anatomy in her class is literally blocked out by a conveniently placed sticker. After she discovers the teeth, she begins to explore her body and take control of her own sexuality.

On another level, this film could be deemed a feminist piece against sexual assault. The main character possesses the ability to protect herself when men take advantage of her sexually. Exaggeration comes into play to deliver this message. It starts with the teeth being used as defense for the very real dangers of rape and other forms of sexual assault. It eventually turns into the teeth being used as a tool for revenge. Dawn owns the power within herself. It can be empowering depending on how you look at it.

I will point out at this time that a lot of user commentary I’ve seen about this film suggests that there is no subtext, and I’m just reaching. I will point out that many women see this film as a dark comedy, while many men think its a pile of feminist garbage. You know how the internet is. In any case, it is what you make of it.

Performances in Teeth are as good as you would expect. Jess Weixler does a really good job in the lead role. She can transition between a variety of emotions very well. I do feel that there is a large portion of her story that is missing from the final film. She transitions from the beginning to end state far too quickly. It feels rushed. Everyone else does a decent job with what they’re given.

Be prepared to see a whole lot of sensitive appendages removed. It’s not super gory. I can imagine that it would be cringeworthy for people who have those sensitive appendages. If you haven’t picked up on it thus far, I am referring to penises. Most of the gory details are left to the imagination, with only sound design to implicate the actual severing point. You get some gushing blood after the fact though. It gets campy, so if you like campy, you’re in luck!

I think Teeth is a pretty well done film. I can understand though that it might not be for everyone. I appreciated the message I interpreted of empowerment through understanding your sexuality, but I hesitate to call it a feminist film for a variety of reasons.

This is one of those films that the critics praised, but it didn’t receive wide success with audiences. Everything I’ve heard about it over the last decade leans toward it being a cult classic of sorts. Those films can be polarizing, as I assume Teeth is for audiences.

As I said, this isn’t a bad film, so if you can stomach dismembered penises, you might want to give it a shot. That’s entirely up to your discretion though.

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