Film Review: “Teeth”

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Teeth, 2007

dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein

This film has been on my Netflix queue forever, and I never wanted to see it because everyone I met kept saying how creepy and horrifying and awful it was. Then last night I said “fuck it”, pressed play, and experienced the most entertaining 94 minutes of my life. Oh, my God. Teeth is a masterpiece.

Okay, maybe not a masterpiece, but it is amazing.

In case you don’t know, Teeth is the story of Dawn O’Keefe (I have a theory that they gave her that last name because of the artist Georgie O’Keeffe who paints flowers that look like vaginas) who is, at the beginning, a firm believer in The Promise to keep herself chaste until marriage, and wears a purity ring. At the very first scene of the film we know there’s something strange with her because when she is about to be sexually abused by her step-brother who is a bit older than her, something bites him inside her vagina. It turns out, Dawn has something called vagina dentata, which is a Latin term for vagina with teeth. Whenever she is in a situation when there’s something in her she that is threatening and unwanted, those teeth just start chomping it all up. And since every man she encounters in this film is either a rapist or a douchebag, we see a lot of cut off penises.

We follow her as she falls for Tobey, who is one of the people in her purity group, who confesses he was not a virgin before taking the pledge, and then, when they are having fun in the lake by themselves, he forces himself on her an in turn her vagina teeth bite the top half of his penis off, leaving him running and screaming away from her, and a few days later, she discovers that he actually died. After that, she changes completely, it’s really interesting to see her character develop from someone who is pure and in love with the idea of marriage (she almost masturbates just to the idea of marrying Tobey, before stopping and chastising herself for impure thoughts) to a girl scared by her own body, who is only just now discovering what is part of her, and finally turning into someone who embraces this difference she carries, turning into a power that allows her an enormous amount of freedom in a savagely male world.

Behind all the goofy gore and fantastical elements, it’s truly a film about female empowerment coming through discovering these hidden aspects on one’s self. During a science class in the film, the students are learning about the male and female reproductive systems, and while the school has no problem teaching them about the penis, there is a sticker covering the page with the diagram of the vagina, and the teacher can’t even say the word. It speaks of the repression women suffered for years, not knowing how their own parts work, and being denied the right to learn about themselves. Sure, Teeth is a somewhat dramatic approach, but it’s really interesting because it puts the power entirely on the woman’s hand. Dawn has all the power. She has the power to say yes and to say no, and if he is denied that power, of if that power is taken away from her, the rapist will get punished in the most painful way possible. It’s really cool to watch a film like this, where the lead female character isn’t tough or physically strong, and she starts from an emotionally weak point as well, but she grows into this really strong, and really independent character who embraces this scary part of herself and uses it as an advantage.

However, the only thing I had a problem with in this film was the fact that every man other than her father was a threat to her. Not only her crush Tobey and her step-brother Brad (who has a very strange arc), but Ryan and also the doctor who examines her and ends up trying to abuse her and thus gets four of his fingers bit off, in a brilliant sequence, might I add. Then to top it off, the old man who gives her a ride after she runs away also turns out to want to have sex with her, but by then she already knows what she’s capable of, and the film ends with her smirking at the camera, knowing what’s going to happen to the creepy old man. I understand that these men might represent the amount of threat women encounter every day from everywhere, but it felt a bit much to me, since the only redeemable male in the entire story was her step-father, who was a very nice man.

But it does serve a purpose in the story, so it’s not that bothersome, that’s just me being nitpick-y. I really enjoyed this film, it was a fantastically fun experience. I would highly recommend it to all who have strong stomachs and don’t mind seeing chopped off penises. It’s rated 18, so there’s that as well. But if you like gore with morals (“gorals”?), definitely check this out, it’s really worth it.


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