Can we all take a moment to appreciate that we live in a post-John Wick world? The we regularly get films that—whatever their base quality—are glowing haven of bi-lighting, neo-‘80s beats, buzzing neon, nostalgia for a time that never was? That we woke up one day and there was some sort of loose, unspoken Weetzie Bat Cinematic Universe?
I am speaking, of course, of the new vampire movie Night Teeth. There’s some fun stuff in Night Teeth! But the element that hit me the hardest was this exact nebulous aesthetic, like if someone listened watched Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and then listened to The Weeknd’s After Hours, and was like, “That, but with vampires! That’s the movie!”
[Matt Berry Voice] Plot! Benny is a college student who lives with his abuela in a truly astonishing cliffside house that overlooks the Pacific. He’s struggling a bit in school, mostly because he wants to dedicate his time to his music. He needs money and he’d like to be cool, and one way to do that is to get his older half-brother, Jay (Raúl Castillo), to let him chauffeur for the company Jay works for. Now if the movie was just “Benny finally gets to chauffeur, but the clients are hot vampires” I think that would have been plenty. But Night Teeth has grander ambitions, and another plot. Los Angeles is locked in a truce between human and vampire. There are certain neighborhoods where the undead stay; there are lots of rules about who’s in charge and who they’re allowed to drink. Jay is involved in a group that knows about the truce, and he’s the one targeted by a vampire named Victor (Alfie Allen), who decides to go rogue, break the truce, and overthrow the vampire hierarchy all in one bloody night.
This plot dovetails with Benny’s when Jay finally allows him to drive some clients, Zoe and Blaire (Lucy Fry and Debby Ryan), who turn out to be vampires, and he has to figure out how to survive the night.
Standard vampire rules apply: they need to feed on blood, they can’t be in the sun, gunshots don’t matter so much, but arrows do, and the movie has some fun with hyper-charged crossbows. They also have the usual heightened senses, so any time Benny tries to, say, unbuckle his seatbelt and make a run for it, there’s a vampire standing in front of him smirking before he’s all the way out of the car.
This highlights the movies strength. Benny is great, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. is great as Benny. He’s one of those characters who’s instantly lovable, and watching him navigate this increasingly nightmarish scenario is way more involving than the bigger machinations of the vampire war plot. The way Zoe, the elder vampire, and Blaire, bat him around like a cat toy is both hilarious and painful to watch. It starts as a typical instance of cool girls bullying someone in a subservient position—Benny tries to be suave and debonair, which would’ve fallen flat with human girls, but to the vampires it’s kind of like…if the mouse footman had flirted with Cinderella on the way to the ball? I appreciated that Benny reacts to everything more or less like a person would—he tries to run away, he tries to get help from a cop, he tries to protect other people—and he is realistically in way over his head.
The growing relationship between Benny and Blaire, the younger of the vampire girls, is legitimately sweet. When she finally decides to treat him as a friend, and bring him into their plan a bit more, it pushes the film’s stakes in a more interesting direction. Is Benny going to choose a side? As his immediate attraction to Blaire morphs into genuine empathy and interest in her as a person, it forces him to have opinions about a supernatural shadow war that he was completely ignorant about the day before.
And this leads us to what I think is the movie’s great weakness: the giant-yet-invisible human/vampire conflict just never landed for me. We don’t see enough of the hierarchy on either side to understand what Victor is disrupting. He wants power, he wants money, he wants to run the city—but why? To go back to John Wick, Alfie Allen’s character in that film goes after John Wick for a very base reason: he wants John’s car, and since he’s the scion of a powerful Russian mob, he’s not well acquainted with consequences. Simple. Over the course of the movie we watch the consequences play out, and we learn about the giant shadowy assassin culture, and we understand the stakes and the desires at every point. In Night Teeth, I never knew if I should root for the vampires, or the humans, or just stick to rooting for Benny as an individual.
Which brings me back to After Hours. For those who haven’t seen it, it also has a deceptively simple plot: Paul Hackett, played by Griffin Dunne, ends up trapped in the lower half of Manhattan, unable to get back to his apartment Uptown. This is a Scorsese movie, so yes, it’s also a highly symbolic journey through Hell or whatever, but mostly it’s a pitch-black comedy about art, class, and pretension. (It was one of my favorite movies when I was, I wanna say, 10? Which probably explains a lot.) It’s really a character study of New York in the ‘80s, in the same way that I think Night Teeth sometimes wants to be a look at L.A. in the 2020s.
I try to meet films where they are, rather than thinking too much about what I want them to be, but in this case I think a movie about a hapless, very sweet human, just trying to get through a night of Uber-ing vampires around, would have been a much stronger addition to the subgenre than yet another riff on supernatural wars, status grabs, and predictable scenes of extremely powerful monsters double-crossing and one-upping each other that Night Teeth often becomes.
Having said that, Night Teeth still makes for a fun, stylish Halloween watch! I just wish it had bitten into its strengths and played with the genre a little more.
Night Teeth is available for streaming on Netflix.
Leah Schnelbach did, in fact, listen to After Hours while writing this review. Join them in the blinding lights of Twitter!