Sunday, April 6, 2008

Movie: Tooth and Nail

If there's anything better than mutants, it's cannibal mutants. And even though the bad guys in Tooth and Nail aren't, technically speaking, mutants, they sure do derive from the Road Warrior school of fashion. When the clothes are little more than scraps of leather and metal studs, you know you're in a post-apocalyptic world. In particular (as the helpful voice-over informs us), the world has ended because... well, because we ran out of gas. Certainly, the explanation seems plausible enough if you don't think about it too much. And if you do, this movie probably isn't for you to begin with.

Needless to say, there are survivors, and there are predators. Our particular survivors (let's refer to them as the Munchies) are a scrappy lot, living off of Red Cross rations in an abandoned Philadelphia hospital. In a strange move, they've all adopted the names of cars: Ford, Dakota, Yukon, Nova, Viper etc., except for the leader, Darwin. The world has fallen apart; quick! everyone pick a nickname! Darwin has been designated the group's leader and brainiac, so he's not going to make it far; it probably doesn't help that he's played by Robert Carradine, best known for his role in Revenge of the Nerds. After all, horror movies tend to privilege men of action. Nerds, not so much. The predators (collectively known as Rovers) and they enjoying picking off their victims one at a time. That way, the meat stays fresh and doesn't get stringy. I guess in the future, curing meat has become a lost art. The Munchies take in a new member, the two groups meet, and dinner is served!

Tooth and Nail doesn't try to make the "guess the non-eaten" game difficult. The victim characters are sketched rather thinly; I doubt they'd make a substantial meal. Nonetheless, the roles of fodder are played convincingly enough. Pity poor Rider Strong, who in recent memory has been: infected with a flesh-eating virus; smacked around with a spiked club; and sacrificed to a Santeria cult (the last two just within the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest alone!). Rachel Miner, a Horrorfest alumna, puts in a sharp turn as the mysterious newcomer Neon, who reveals the big twist two-thirds of the way through the film. (It comes right on cue, following the scriptwriter's formula perfectly.)

Nicole DuPont plays the post-Darwinian leader, Dakota, rather impassively. I suppose DuPont was trying to convey her frail mental state, but the intensity of the Rovers (particularly the manic energy of Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones) demands an equal amount of intensity from their would-be victims. When she finally takes revenge (after using her noggin, pleasingly enough), the director seems to attempts to make her savage and cold and somewhat impractical. Don't waste those bullets! Don't squander those arrows! If the world is running out of resources, it would have made more sense to deliver the coup de grace with a rock. Who wants to dull their sharp blades on vertebrae and sternums?

Tooth and Nail, while it doesn't wow you with any spectacular set pieces or thoughtful commentary on the state of humanity, does at least provide a smooth thrill for its running time. The film uses the long, dark corridors of the hospital to great effect. We get shots of people running; we get shots of people hiding; however, without an idea of the layout of the hospital, the viewer is never quite sure of the distance between the chaser and chasee. Is everyone even on the same floor? Luckily, cannibal mutants can transcend spatial considerations. Must be something in their diet.

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