Abstinence-Only Education

This witty, well-made indie film stars a vagina with retractable shark teeth inside

The independent film Teeth was made on a small budget, with a cast of unknowns, by a group of Hollywood outsiders. And yet, the script is witty and smart; the editing is impeccable; the soundtrack is inventive and well-mixed; and the cinematography is lush and inviting. So the next time you're thinking of spending a half-billion dollars to hire Keanu Reeves and an army of super-clones, it might be best to think again.

Writer/Director Mitchell Lichtenstein and his painfully charming cast of nobodies have created a winning update on 1950s-style horror. It's as though the best of the low-budget, grade-Z atomic-monster films were mixed with the technical sophistication of Alfred Hitchcock, and then someone said, "How 'bout we have a teenage girl with shark teeth in her vagina?"

Teeth is about Dawn (Jess Weixler), a high school student who works with a Christian celibacy group that keeps teenagers from making hot, steamy mistakes. One day, she meets Tobey (Hale Appleman), a young man who is pure in the eyes of Jesus, even if one time, his dingle touched a hoo-hoo.

They fall in love and, as is right and proper, decide they must not see each other again, because their hormones keep chanting "tumesce, lubricate and intermingle," as teenage hormones will do.

But no matter how hard they try, they can't keep apart, and Tobey follows his natural urges, as young men are wont to do, and tries to rape Dawn. Dawn then does what young women should do to young men who try to rape them, which is to sever his external genitals with the retractable shark teeth that conveniently reside in her special-to-Jesus girl parts.

This creates a tender mix of horror and comedy that's reminiscent of budding sexuality itself. There are few straight-out laughs, but there's a continual sense of weird-funny, and on the horror side, there's just enough blood and sausage-chopping to make bad people happy, while still allowing for the kind of restraint that good, church-going horror movies need to have.

The first half of the film has less horror and more satire. Dawn's high school is prim and upright, putting stickers over an image of a vulva in her sex-ed textbook. They leave the penis uncovered, because, as everyone knows, penises aren't dangerous to look at. Thus, Dawn is uninformed about how things are supposed to appear down there, but when she finds out that her Christian love cavity can give the Marie Antoinette treatment to any unwanted visitors, she seeks answers.

Her biology teacher has been talking about the anti-biblical idea that animals adapt to threats in their environment, so Dawn thinks that perhaps her sanctified baby-production device is merely evolving a proper defense to a world full of sinners. Of course, evolution is against God, so this leaves Dawn in a state of mental crisis.

Things speed out of control in the second half of the movie, which becomes a sort of coming-of-age film, a slasher flick, a Hitchcock homage and a superhero movie--all rolled into one. It gains a lot of watchability from the work of cinematographer Wolfgang Held, who does a great job of capturing the beauty of that part of the suburbs that rests right next to the wilderness, and that part of puberty that rages madly in the pants.

He's helped by the acting of Weixler, whose wide-eyed performance as Dawn marks her as a young actress to watch. (I should note that I'm always wrong about these things, so the next time you see Weixler, she'll probably be wearing a gold jacket and asking how much closet space you need.) She's weirdly expressive, somehow managing to capture the campiness of a Brady Bunch-style sitcom performance while still seeming like a real person. The whole cast captures this feel, finding the horror in well-scrubbed innocence and pimple-free adolescence. It's kind of like watching Marcia, Greg, Jan and Peter giggle and then make out and then vomit blood.

But the most amazing thing about this film is how well-assembled it is. The editing is razor tight; the music is cut in perfectly; there are some technically arresting fantasy sequences; and the cinematography swings between gorgeous, sweeping outdoor scenes and stuff like a beautifully framed close-up of a severed wiener-head falling from between young and deadly thighs. And maybe best of all, there's no fat in its 88 minutes; everything is worth watching.

Teeth is not the most politically correct thing out there (that'd be the upcoming Hostel III: Hotel of Inter-Racial Healing), but it's smarter, funnier and better-looking than at least two of the three remaining mainstream presidential candidates.

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