What would you do if you knew tonight was your last night on Earth?
When it comes to horror tropes, it’s pretty safe to say that zombies and vampires have been most successful in making the transition into the mainstream. From Blade to What We Do In The Shadows, the breadth of possibilities as to how vampires can be incorporated into other genre styles is constantly being explored, and Night Teeth is the latest in a long line of experiments in that vein.
Los Angeles student Benny (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) takes the place of his freelance chauffeur and older brother Jay (Raúl Castillo), taking a job due to last all night; friends Blair (Debby Ryan) and Zoe (Lucy Fry), who are looking to do a tour of parties at L.A. clubs, bars and parties. Unbeknown to Benny; Blair and Zoe are vampires and their trip soon is revealed to be a little more than an all-night party bender, placing Benny directly in mortal danger…
Night Teeth’s central premise is pretty simple; humans and vampires have quietly coexisted for centuries, with the existence of the latter kept quiet as part of the agreement. The film looks to take the vampire concept and weave into a gangland action drama; with the narrative built around the existence of various vampire families in L.A, mirroring the concept of crime families in major cities, and the chaos that ensues when one of those families goes rogue; not just sending the vampire world into disarray, but also threatening the arrangements made with the humans who maintain that peace. It also then works in a Romeo & Juliet style forbidden love angle, which enhances the roles of the central characters and their reactions to the overall plot in a mostly-effective way. It’s strong as a narrative concept, and writer Brent Dillon does good work in fleshing out how the family system works through that narrative; but there’s something about Night Teeth that somehow feels missing, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that was.
Stylistically, Night Teeth is a great-looking movie. Director Adam Randall leans into the aesthetics of modern downtown L.A. to shape the feel of the piece; with the opening establishment of Benny’s character framed by beautiful sunsets over the county, before moving into darkness and relying on headlights, streetlights, the neon signs of L.A. clubs and the glow of Benny’s dashboard to light the majority of the piece. It gives the same feeling that we get from the likes of John Wick, with the more naturalistic lighting reserved primarily for Benny, especially in the scenes with Jay and his Abuela (Marlene Forte); while Blair, Zoe and the other vampires more often find themselves in less naturalistics greens, purples and pinks; the glow of neon directed to enhance their unnatural, inhuman existence; with the lighting styles crossing where the two worlds meet, particularly the scenes where Benny is most directly at risk on his passenger’s tour.
The feeling is enhanced by both the soundtrack and costuming; with the former consisting of original tracks created by a collaboration between Ian Hultquist and Drum & Lace; and a considerable number of modern hip-hop tracks from the likes of Saweetie, Rico Nasty and Wang Chung. It’s a slick and smooth soundtrack that seamlessly moves into the background as required, punctuating the dialogue as our central trio drive around town, and storming into the forefront as the action takes over and the dialogue eases off. Costuming is on point as well; with Benny’s ill-fitting black suit and white trainers presenting the semi-professional look one would expect of a teenage driver, contrasted by Zoe and Blair’s clubland, socialite attire; both looks being both mirrored and adapted by other characters in the film; with the vampires all sharply dressed, and the majority of the other human characters adapting a more street-level style.
Our central cast put in strong performances here, doing the most with Dillon’s script. Lendeborg Jr. is particularly believable as Benny, especially in the moments when he is weighing up his self-preservation options; and the growing disbelief in the things he has seen and been a part of as the journey is well put together. His chemistry with Ryan’s Blair is palpable, and as the more restrained of his two passengers, she manages to emit a quiet charm while not compromising the fact her character is an apex predator; allowing the audience in to the fact that vampires can, and do, have a softer side – paralleled brilliantly by Fry as Zoe, whose attitude towards violence is considerably more flexible, and she clearly is having a lot of fun playing a violent loose cannon here. All three work well together, with Fry and Ryan’s combination being both playful and dangerous, and Lendeborg Jr’s response to both being appropriately disparate that we can see clear lines of division within the three developing as the narrative continues, with Benny’s self-preservation instincts both working to cause dissension between the girls at some points, and bringing them closer together at others.
The supporting cast have good showings too, with Raúl Castillo’s Jay exuding a grim determination and big brotherly love for Benny in a convincing way, while also maintaining enough of an air of mystery as to what other business he is involved in for his shorter time on screen to remain compelling. Marlene Forte also gets some noteworthy moments as their Abuela, demonstrating both compassion and strength in regards to the care of her grandchildren, and her reappearance towards the end of the second act was one of my favourite scenes in the whole film. Alfie Allen is on hand as the film’s overall villain Victor, essentially combining his role from John Wick with Stephen Dorff’s role from the original Blade; as head of one of L.A’s vampire families, it is his actions which have led to the chaos driving the narrative. Allen has had plenty of experience with roles like this, and he delivers here; a stand-out scene being a meeting with another vampire family head, played by modern scream queen Megan Fox in an effective cameo role.
Even with so many good things to say about Night Teeth, something about it makes me feel like it didn’t quite reach the potential of its premise. It borrows a lot of concepts from other films to piece itself together, which is certainly not a criticism as it does so very effectively; visually it looks great, the soundtrack is perfect for the premise and for the action, and it has strong performances from start to finish; but something about it just didn’t land in a way that I was hoping it would. This is a perfectly enjoyable film, more than appropriate for a Friday night viewing with good snacks and good company; if you like vampire movies, it’s worth a watch. Maybe one of you can figure out what it was that just didn’t quite click – and then let me know.