“Night Teeth” may not recreate the vampire wheel, but it offers a fast-paced, fun, and wildly enjoyable new addition to the canon.
Vampires have been chomping their way through jugulars for as long as we have had the capacity to tell stories about them. They predate written lore, traveling through oral history long before Bram Stoker committed ol’ Dracula to paper. So it is a challenge, if not a full-on impossibility, to find a new story for our nosferatu friends.
Night Teeth does not, exactly, provide a fully original new entry into the vampire canon. What it does do — and quite well — is ‘Frankenstein’ together a number of disparate story templates, cover them in delicious blood, and light them with neon, to an overall, pretty delightful effect.
Benny’s a sweet goofball who wants to make a little extra scratch to help his Abuela and maybe finally finish his demo CD. When his brother, Jay, needs a driver for his car service, Benny volunteers, assuming an easy night of driving a sweet car for some yuppies who will ignore him and tip generously at the end of the night.
Benny is, of course, wildly mistaken, in the grand tradition of normal guys thrust into extraordinary circumstances (Jaime Foxx in Collateral is the obvious parallel, but more on that later).
His passengers turn out to be two (seemingly) young women, Zoe and Blair, who need to attend a series of parties before the end of the night.
Benny is quick to suspect he is in way over his head, and he is certain of it when he follows Blair and Zoe into a high-end hotel with a secret floor. He finds the women drinking the blood of a couple of wealthy investor bros, and, well, the point of no return is passed. Zoe wants to drink Benny’s blood and chuck the husk, call it a night, but Blair — who has quick and obvious chemistry with Benny — argues he can be useful. They do, after all, need a driver.
Night Teeth exists in an alternate Los Angeles where, at some point, a turf battle raged between vampires and humans.
Eventually, a truce was reached; humans would leave vampires to their own devices provided vampires stayed clear of certain areas and didn’t drink any human blood that was not offered freely.
Jay exists as a somewhat combative human liaison to the various vampire godfathers.
The vampire community itself is a bit fractured; there is a vaguely defined hierarchy, a mafia-esque chain of command, and territory division. Victor is an ambitious mid-level vampire and both Zoe’s boyfriend and seemingly her boss (never a good combination). Victor has decided to end the truce between humans and vampires and has sent Zoe and Blair out to kill each of the vampire bosses, leaving him as the de facto leader.
Poor Benny has to juggle his growing attraction to Blair, his desire to save Jay from Victor, and his need to keep his precious hemoglobin in his body; vampires keep commenting on what “good blood” they’re certain he gives.
Attentive viewers will immediately note certain tried and true plot archetypes.
There is, of course, a ticking clock. Vampires die in sunlight, so Blair and Zoe have to complete their hit list before morning. Overlapping a bit in the Venn Diagram is the “one crazy night” trope, where a normally relatively commonplace life is upset over the course of an action-packed evening. There are mob movie elements. There’s the star-crossed lovers theme, so prevalent in vampiric lore. There are also hints of the Underworld franchise if you switch out humans for werewolves.
It may seem like a criticism to list the myriad wells Night Teeth drinks from; it’s not.
Pastiche is a genuine art form, one that is not easy to execute enjoyably.
Night Teeth fuses its various influences together pretty damn seamlessly. The movie goes down smooth.
Its secret weapon is, undoubtedly, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. His name is a mouthful, but he deserves to be a full-blown star. He plays Benny with so much awe-shucks charm, the viewer is on his side well before the first hints of conflict come through.
I alluded to Collateral earlier; it’s a comparison that will be inevitable. An unsuspecting driver gets rail-roaded into helping a killer (in this case, killers plural) over the course of a messy, spree-killing night. The driver becomes the audience surrogate, and as such, any and all humanity rests on their shoulders.
Lendeborg manages to lend credibility to an absolutely impossible situation. He behaves and reacts in a way that’s as close to relatable as any of us can imagine, given the high improbability of being carjacked by vampires. He is, put plainly, a charm factory who makes the viewer protective of Benny, even as he bounces up against Blair.
Debby Ryan as Blair and Lucy Fry as Zoe have a fun “party girls- as- vampires” chemistry together.
Fry has the showier role; Zoe is more than a little unhinged and has that sparkling edge of danger that’s so fun for audiences to watch. Ryan acquits herself admirably, though, playing what is, in some peculiar ways, the most grounded character. Blair is very aware of the reality she exists in, and she rolls with those punches. She’s kind of like a cat with a new toy; Benny is the first thing to raise her interest in a long (after)life, and that interest is as dangerous as it is tantalizing.
In addition to being paced like a speed metal song (there are no lagging parts), Night Teeth looks great.
Los Angeles is shiny and beautiful. A number of aerial shots show cars moving through streets, designed to look like arteries, a steady reminder of the nature of the dangers our hero is up against. The whole movie is bathed in neon; it basically glows.
Night Teeth is smart enough to never take itself too seriously.
Its tongue is pretty firmly in cheek for most of the run-time. The wryness, as well as the wink and the nudge to the audience, keep the film from getting bogged down. Being too self-serious about a vampire-mob-party movie would strain the credulity of any audience.
As it stands, Night Teeth is in on the joke. Like Lucy, it wants to have a fast, violent, bloody good time. And it brings viewers along for that ride.