Night Teeth Needs Sharpening

Movies Reviews Netflix
Night Teeth Needs Sharpening

British director Adam Randall’s Night Teeth sets its brand of nocturnal vampires against the backdrop of Los Angeles, with particular emphasis on the staunchly anti-vamp residents of Boyle Heights. The film doesn’t provide much in terms of significant additions to existing vampiric lore—The Lost Boys pioneered the unlikely Californian vampire, while last year’s Vampires vs. the Bronx offered a muddled modern parable of vampires as gentrifying leeches. Yet while sorely lacking compelling creative elements, Night Teeth is far from devoid of entertainment value. Particularly when it comes to charming lead performances and superficial cameo appearances from Megan Fox and Sydney Sweeney, Night Teeth delivers formulaic fun without much for viewers to sink their teeth into.

Engaging in various side-hustles to put himself through college and support his aging abuela, Benny (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) champs at the bit to pick up a shift at his big brother Jay’s (Raúl Castillo) upscale chauffeur company. Unbeknownst to Benny, Jay is only letting him cover his shift due to the recent disappearance of his girlfriend Maria—and the suspected supernatural cause of her vanishing. Apparently, their majority Latino community of Boyle Heights has maintained a century-long pact with vampires, vowing to stop ruthlessly hunting them if they permanently avoid the neighborhood and cease feeding on unwilling human subjects. This is what makes Maria’s disappearance so concerning: If vampires truly are behind it, they have broken a sacred agreement that has endured decades—and that means war. Unfortunately for Benny, his two wealthy clients for the long night ahead, Blaire (Debby Ryan) and Zoe (Lucy Fry), are part of a larger vampiric plot that would have greedy bloodsucker Victor (Alfie Allen) running the city, effectively calling an open season on all humans. Despite their egregious wealth and superhuman advantage, the vampires have their work cut out for them when it comes to taking down the robust vampire-hunting militia defending the citizens of Boyle Heights—the ostensible crown jewel of their L.A. takeover.

Night Teeth certainly attempts to craft distinct flourishes within the vampire mythos—rival sects of vampires controlling different areas of L.A., convenient blood sources for discreet upper-class vampires, positioning Boyle Heights as a unique sanctuary from undead stalkers. However, for a story so singularly interested in the Los Angeles area, the actual presence of the city is oddly subdued. Though there are a few close-up shots of recognizable street signs and other minor landmarks, the film’s assertion that Benny is chauffeuring his bloodthirsty clients to distinct sections of the city never comes to visual fruition. Even those familiar with the city are likely to find establishing shots flatly blending together into vague concepts of territory (likely influenced by its partial shooting in New Orleans). The film also bears an awful lot in common with Netflix’s 2020 Halloween-pegged movie Vampires vs. the Bronx, which similarly positions a majority-Latino community against vampires threatening to hunt and displace them. At least with Vampires vs. the Bronx, the premise of gentrification is an appropriate parable for what long-time residents are currently experiencing, even if the topic is admittedly low-hanging fruit. Night Teeth, conversely, feels out of touch with the neighborhood it is depicting. There is no incentive to focus on Boyle Heights outside of the allure of featuring endearing abuelas and built-in underdogs. This could have been made marginally more convincing had it used the neighborhood’s Día de los Muertos celebration as a narrative device, particularly because it is one of the longest-running and most popular in the Los Angeles area. However, the movie is content with simply presenting a premise and praying that the audience blindly follows.

Night Teeth does have moments of indulgent nonsense—a total salve in the presence of half-baked stakes. The singular scene that Sweeney and Fox share is delicious, vacuous decadence: They’re vaguely represented as the vampiric bosses that control Beverly Hills, but the honest reason for their existence is to give Sweeney and Fox the welcome opportunity to don sexy and celestial goth outfits. While the scene is undoubtedly a lazy means of inserting two well-known actresses in order to cultivate hype for the film (especially considering Megan Fox’s Criterion Channel-certified cult hit Jennifer’s Body), the world isn’t ultimately worse off in gaining a superficial cameo from Fox and Sweeney during which they talk down to a pompous man while sporting spiked ear cuffs and hooded sheer robes. In truth, the lead (and ancillary) actors in Night Teeth are what instill an iota of intrigue. Benny and Blaire’s burgeoning romance is enlivened by Lendeborg and Ryan’s kinetic chemistry, while Fry’s Zoe oscillates between sadistically beguiling and excruciatingly annoying—effectively mirroring Blaire’s mounting distrust of Zoe as she increasingly identifies with Benny’s human plight.

Though the vampiric depictions are far from new or exciting, Night Teeth is salvaged by the relative strength of its actors. Particularly when conveying the thin line that separates the living from the undead, the characters marvelously channel the overarching boredom of 21st century existence, even for the supremely powerful: Car service rentals, staring at cell phones and pleather pants plague everyone, especially in a city like L.A. This humorous revelation is ultimately what Randall and writer Brent Dillon attempt to communicate, but it never quite manifests as a distinct assertion. Their vampires nominally drink blood from goofy bar taps and feed on consenting humans, effectively aligning them with lazy house cats descended from stealthy predators. However, the exploration of this neutered vampire never delves deeper. Yet for those seeking a generic romp complete with cheesy star-crossed romance, self-aware cameos and predictable punchlines, Night Teeth might just deliver anyway.

Director: Adam Randall
Writers: Brent Dillon
Stars: Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Debby Ryan, Lucy Fry, Raúl Castillo, Alfie Allen, Alexander Ludwig, Sydney Sweeney, Megan Fox
Release Date: October 20, 2021 (Netflix)

Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Paste Magazine, Blood Knife Magazine and Filmmaker Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan

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