Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Women in Horror: Teeth

Dawn O'Keefe is an abstinent Christian that advocates for everyone to wait until marriage, avoid masturbation, and only have sex for procreation. She speaks at the local chastity groups meetings and does everything she can to keep away from temptation: only hanging out with chastity group members, dating in groups, only watching G rated films, and, of course, wearing her purity ring. Her pretty veneer hides the fact that she has a sick mother at home, a passive and weak father, and a violent creepy stepbrother at home. Everything is going pretty well (as far as abstinence goes) until she starts dating Tobey, a fellow chastity group member. Their resolve dissolves as they meet at a secluded lake known for being popular with couples. Dawn comes to her senses and refuses Tobey's sexual advances, but he doesn't take no for an answer. She tries to fight him off and in the process discovers an attribute of her body she never knew she had. Is she a mutant freak or can she use this newfound ability to her advantage?

Teeth seems to be a typical cheesy teen gorefest on the surface. Well, it is, but there is a lot of things happening below the surface that the average audience member may not get on the first viewing as a result. The general tone of the film is light and comical, but there are a couple of serious scenes as well. The penis and finger severing scenes are usually pretty funny and, as expected, accompanied with lots of blood and screaming. This film doesn't take itself completely seriously, but it does say a lot about our society and the way women are viewed.

At first, Dawn seems to be a shell of a person. She's a Christian, but she doesn't seem to be very devout beyond abstinence. She doesn't go to church or help the homeless or get involved in any other church activities. Her interests aren't really known either. It seems her only desire is to get married and have children. In our society and in the view of the popular Christian religions, she is the perfect poster girl. People are still shocked when I tell them I have no interest in having children as if it's my obligation to do so just because I happen to have a vagina. It's simply ridiculous. Anyway, even though they are both actively abstinent, Dawn and Tobey meet in a secluded lake known as a sex/makeout spot. This scene is a commentary for all those people who are resistant to having proper sex education in schools. In abstinence only classes, the same amount of kids have sex, but more of them now have diseases they were never educated about or become pregnant.

Dawn progresses from a one dimensional, perfect, almost robotic girl to a real one with emotions, confusion, and a will to discover herself. When her teeth make themselves known, she is afraid and has no idea what's happening. Her fear stems from her ignorance of her own body. In an earlier scene, she saw a horrible vision of a toothed insect when she attempted to masturbate. She sees her own sexuality as monstrous and disgusting and she fears it. In sex education at her school, there was a big sticker over the diagram of the vulva. Society doesn't want feminine sexuality depicted in an earnest and real way. This diagram isn't shown, but throughout the film there are advertisements with scantily clad women with only their bodies on display all over the place. It seems as if the only way a women can be seen as sexual is as a sex object. The scene where Dawn removes the sticker and stares in shock and wonder is beautiful because she sees that her body and her sexuality isn't something to fear. Her vagina dentata then becomes a weapon she can wield to protect herself. Jess Weixler does a beautiful job portraying Dawn and her emotional journey.

Brad is the opposite of Dawn. He is her creepy stepbrother who has lusted after her since their parents married when they were children. Warped and disturbed, he views women only as sex objects and subhuman, seen with the pornographic photos on his walls, the abusive relationship with his girlfriend, the disregard he has for his ailing mother, and the fact that he named his dog Mother. There really aren't any consequences to his actions because of the inaction of his parents and society in general, which enables him to keep being a misogynist douche. There really aren't any men in this film that aren't either sexually abusive or insanely weak. Also, the only people who are mutilated by Dawn are men. I guess this could be seen as misandrist, but since horror is famous for being misogynistic, I think it's only fair for there to be a different persepective on things. I also don't think its saying all men are this way, but to prove his point the filmmaker only included horrible, reprehensible men.

The film also features small things that may not be obvious to the undiscerning viewer. Like Dawn's last name is a reference to a feminist painter, Georgia O'Keeffe. Medusa is depicted in the film more than once, which is a reference to the Greek myth version of vagina dentata. This trope is seen in ancient mythology all over the world, stemming from man's fear of castration and female sexuality. This tale reverses this myth and makes it one of female empowerment.

The bottom line with this film is that it's unique, cerebral, and aware of its long history. Teeth is a mixture of good, bloody fun and social commentary. I would recommend this to just about everyone, but those who might be offended by severed members and toothed vaginas should avoid this.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins


nfmgirl said...

I've had this one in my Netflix instant queue. I'll have to take time to sit down and finally watch it!

Misty said...

Okay, apparently my last comment wasn't my *last comment...
I haven't seen this, but I just want to say: Very well done. Seriously, great insight, very concise and straight-forward. Good job!