Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mitchell Lichtenstein - Teeth (2007)

There is, of course, a long tradition of the horror movie as a metaphor for the disturbing bodily changes and desires of the teenager. And there are a number of (relatively) recent films in this genre which I esteem highly - particularly the excellent Ginger Snaps, and also Cabin Fever (shame about the execrable Hostel). I was hoping Teeth would fall into this basket. I didn't think that the film could possibly live up to the tagline, "a coming of age story via David Cronenberg," but I thought its presence might be a positive sign nonetheless. And so, after reading some polarised reviews, I thought I'd give it a go.

Having done so, I'd have to agree with the reviewers who called this film a missed opportunity. Speaking of metaphors, while the teen sexuality one is very much in evidence, as far as fear of female sexuality Lichtenstein (incidentally, the son of the famous pop artist) has decided just to dispense with the whole metaphor thing, and go straight for the vagina dentata. The film began promisingly. Twenty-year-old Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a teen abstinence advocate. There are some nicely done, though very heavy handed, early scenes satirising the 'promise keepers,' and throwing in some material on evolution (an evolutionary mutation is the nominal explanation for Dawn's, ahem, VD) and pointing out the sexism inherent in this kind of discourse. But as soon as Dawn's seemingly abstinence-supportive friend Tobey (Hale Appleman) forces himself upon her, we move into fairly standard horror territory. All men are sexual predators, except a girl's daddy - including doctors, and creepy stepbrothers (incidentally, I don't know why filmic purveyors of violence are so often portrayed as pierced - facial piercings have a nasty habit of getting ripped out in violent encounters); and they're going to get what they deserve (I don't intend to imply here, by the way, that this is a misandric story - that's not it at all).

It is refreshing, if that's the word, to see a film where the 'female rape revenge' story isn't played out in a context of brutal, bleak rape voyeurism, a la I Spit On Your Grave. But as soon as the violence starts, the story veers from quasi-realist to non-realist in a rather dissatisfying way (it's the veer I object to, not the one or the other); characters seem to have little or no motivation for their actions, and to behave out of character for the sake of the evolution of the predictable plot, while the interesting discussion about female sexuality and constructions of viscerality, religion, fear, humiliation, and sexual power is instantly jettisoned.

The film isn't worth rejecting out of hand; visually it's nicely done, and it remains an interesting concept which I admire for having a stab at revealing the subject matter which remains a misogynistic subtext in most horror films; and turning a spotlight upon that subject matter as an overt subject for a narrative, and for reflection, in its own right. But given that this somewhat valiant attempt is doomed to failure early on, the accomplishment of this film is to open up possibilities of further investigation of this kind of approach to the standard tropes of the horror genre, rather than to accomplish a meaningful investigation in itself.

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