Teeth (2007, dir. Michell Lichtenstein) review

In a modest house, lying in the shadow of two large smoke stacks, a young woman grows teeth in her vagina. Writer/director Michell Lichtenstein forges a fast, fun horror film with some bite, but struggles to add any penetrating insight to the issues it opens up. 

Dawn (Jess Weixler) belongs to a Christian group which preaches sexual abstinence before marriage at high school. Unknown to the world, she has a physiological condition called vagina dentata. Most days she is harassed and ridiculed by the pot-smoking pupils who fail to see the point in not having sex. Dawn’s new boyfriend also doubts his commitment to celibacy. 

Teeth never goes all the way and shows us the titular fangs, but we see the effects. Dawn’s troubled brother gets his finger sliced in the paddling pool when they’re children. It’s not long before someone loses some fingers and, if you don’t wish to see a severed penis, you may want to cross your legs and look away. 

Lichenstein constructs a situation which demands we see some promised toothy action, even though Dawn has vowed to remain chaste. Problematically, this requires Dawn to be violated for the film to get its way.

There aren’t many men in Dawn’s life who don’t have an unhealthy attitude to sex. An unethical gynaecologist seems perfectly happy to vigorously examine her without another woman present. Dawn’s brother noisily bangs his girlfriend while the family sit and listen. And at school, she befriends one boy, then another, who exploit her. Lichenstein mines some uncomfortable and blackly comic scenes from this.

Teeth juggles tension and humour, with mildly successful digs at Young Christians, corporate pollution and youth culture. It is solidly directed and very well played even when the story is running out of steam. It seems lazy writing to make Dawn so fervent about sex and sin when her own sexual organs are so demonic. But what sits most uncomfortably is when Dawn allows herself to have sex with someone she doesn’t want to in order to deliver a forced emasculation. The place that Dawn finds herself by the end of the film seems a betrayal of the character.

The local power-plant and it’s smoke-stacks sit proudly in every exterior shot of the house, belching out greasy, black smoke, as though to suggest a cause for events. In truth, the cause is more prosaic. Someone wanted to make a film about a toothed vagina and, while not without some bloody pleasures and slippery horror, failed to make it all quite hang together.


Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人 Shingeki no Kyojin) television review

Attack on Titan is an animated television series adapted from a popular Japanese comic. It’s a thoroughly unhealthy mash-up of Game of Thrones, Full Metal Jacket, Night of the Living Dead, Spiderman and Jack and the Beanstalk. It has a terrifying disregard for the lives of its characters. It features unexpected twists, death, destruction and dizzyingly choreographed action sequences. And it has one of the catchiest, most bombastic, title sequences you’ll ever see.

In a land of castles and feudalism, all citizens live within a heavily walled city. The thick wall keeps out the ‘Titans’, 15 metre, naked, sexless, gormless freaks who live to chase and eat humans. The majority of the Titans have a European/American appearance. It’s not hard to see Attack on Titan as a metaphor for “bland” Western culture invading Japan.

One sunny day, a new titan appears. At 100 metres, he stands higher than the wall. When he rudely breaches it, the city finds it’s streets overrun with mindless titans, scooping up and devouring the population.

The military’s response to the apocalypse is to rally an army of swordsmen equipped with “3D Maneuver Gear”. They have the ability to fire cables which spear nearby buildings, allowing them to swing up high enough to deliver a killing blow to the Titan’s neck. It sounds fun, looks impressive, but felling a Titan is difficult. Many soldiers die in the process, every fight infused with grim urgency.

Twists and revelations soon pile-up, changing the war entirely. Despite an eventful story and crazy ideas, viewers will find their pleasure curtailed by pacing issues. While some of the story zips along, on a dime it will turn a corner into lengthy internal monologue, killing the tension. The animation veers between highly detailed energy and simple static images. These mark the points that the production team found their time and budget stretched. At its best, the imagination on display is frightening and beautiful.

Character design is strong, with Eren Yaeger, Mikasa Ackerman and Levi particularly worth looking out for. In fact Eren and Mikasa (the main characters) have a back-story so complex and compelling, there’s enough material for several spin-offs. It’s their recruitment into the corps which initially drives the story, but a large supporting cast features several brilliant personalities who zing off the screen.

Attack on Titan is a surprising, nail-biting and only occasionally frustrating show. It skews the well-trodden zombie format into something on a far grander scale. It ratchets up the melodrama to equally dizzying heights and represents a high point for serial television animation.