Adam Randall’s Night Teeth opens with an electronic score and a stylish Grand Theft Auto aesthetic. As a car cruises through the dark streets of Los Angeles, it’s immediately apparent that the film is going to be flashy and neon-soaked throughout. Randall and first-time screenwriter Brent Dillon introduce their YA vampire thriller through portraits of vampire history reflected onto the chrome of the car by the city's lights. One focal point is the real-life Chicano/Mexican American neighborhood of Boyle Heights, which in the film is the only place in LA where vampires are forbidden due to a truce made some years ago. But one vampire in a quest for power breaks that truce, resulting in a war, not only between humans and vampires, but between themselves.
The vampires in Night Teeth are rich, powerful, and predominantly white. They control everything, and it goes as deep as law enforcement and politics. Dividing their turf like gang bosses, the five oldest vampires have all the territory, while the younger vampires are simply “middle management” and outcasts. Some humans like Jay (Raúl Castillo) and his crew in Boyle Heights are knowledgeable of vampires and know how to kill them. So, when Victor (Alfie Allen), sick of not having any power, ventures into Boyle Heights and is spotted by Jay, leaders like Eva (Sydney Sweeney) and Grace (Megan Fox) are furious. His recklessness causes tension, but he’s tired of feeling imprisoned. He’s making moves, or in other words, making his girlfriend, Zoe (Lucy Fry), and her friend Blaire (Debby Ryan) do the dirty work. Breaking the truce is serious business, and especially so when Jay discovers that Victor has also been hunting in Boyle Heights. To make matters worse, Victor kidnaps Jay’s girlfriend, Maria (Ash Santos).
While Jay knows that LA is crawling with vampires, he keeps his brother, Benny (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) in the dark. Benny is a chill college kid who loves to skateboard and make his own beats. They both live with their abuela (Marlene Forte), and Jay is the closest thing Benny has to a father. On the night Jay sets out to find Maria and hunt Victor down, he lets Benny take over his shift as a chauffeur. Benny pulls up to a Beverly Hills mansion, where he picks up Zoe and Blaire, who say they want to hit several parties around the city. As he takes them to each stop, it feels like a tour of LA for the audience. It soon becomes clear to Benny that something isn’t right, and when he walks in on the girls drinking the blood of fresh meat, he’s introduced to the sinister underbelly of his hometown and met by the force of Victor’s thirst for power.
Night Teeth is built around a pretty generic power trip narrative, but the film’s writing shows its strength in characterization and exposition. While it does have some hiccups, like the film failing to explain why Victor targets Jay specifically, we’re essentially Benny without a clue about what’s going on, but Dillon delivers a well-written script that lays it all out for us in its explanation of how this secret society runs and what Victor’s goal is. The dialogue is pretty hit or miss at times, however, with some lines, like referring to a queer character (Alexander Ludwig's Rocko) as a “freak,” feeling unnecessary. Where the film really feels like a YA rom-com is through the flirtations between Benny and Blaire and the sweet connection they form. It certainly seems unrealistic to fall for a bloodsucker, but Ryan makes it clear in her performance that Blaire still has some humanity in her, compared to the unhinged Zoe.
Lendeborg Jr. brings a comedic heart to the role of Benny, a character who seems to prefer staying in his comfort zone. He displays a nervousness that contrasts with Ryan and Fry as his fanged passengers. They have a menacing, hungry look in their eyes and give off a playful mischievousness. Ryan and Fry also kick ass, doing the majority of their stunts themselves, with Ryan putting her real-life boxing skills on display. Leaving a bloodbath in their wake, we don’t get to see them in action much until later in the film, but when those scenes come, the stars deliver. The action is definitely a highlight, well-choreographed and employing the use of crossbows that shoot out bolts of light, creating a striking visual effect, which is a unique and cool touch. While the film loses steam in the third act, it picks back up when the girls can throw some more punches. Compared to his ladies, Allen doesn’t get in the middle of the action, but he does get to act out the film’s most chilling scene and does it with a sick grin. Sweeney and Fox get even less screen time as two of LA’s vampire bosses, who should instead be referred to as queens. Sporting the best costumes in the film, watching them unleashing their venom on Allen is fun to see, but too short-lived. Ready to chew him up and spit him out, they make an impression as expected, but it feels like a waste.
In Night Teeth’s introduction, Ryan narrates and says, “We’re all around, living right under your noses, and you have no idea.” But I think most of us already know that the City of Angels, like most cities and most countries, is full of and run by blood-sucking vampires.
Movie Score: 3.5/5