Teen vampire thriller Night Teeth begins the same way many vampire films begin: with an innocent and slightly bewildered town resident getting murdered by the local vampires. This is complicated by the victim’s boyfriend Jay (Raúl Castillo) being one of the only people in the town aware of the vampires’ existence. In this world, as we learn in the prologue, the LA neighbourhood of Boyle Heights is populated by vampires that made a truce many years ago with humans to coexist civilly and now go about living and partying underground, completely undetected. That is until the power (and blood) hungry Victor (Alfie Allen) wants to break the truce, and murder any human in his path.
We then meet our protagonist Benny (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), Jay’s younger brother, a college student and chauffeur who takes an all-night job driving two mysterious young women, Blaire (Debby Ryan) and Zoe (Lucy Fry), around LA for a night of party-hopping. They instruct him to get to the final destination by sunrise and it soon becomes clear the plan hides a nefarious intent.
The introduction of these two vampires (that we follow throughout the film) is a non-event, or definitely not as interesting as it should be. Debby Ryan plays the character with the same particularity that has turned her into a meme, sort of aggressively flirtatious with a script not going to bat for her. It seems their attempt is for Blaire and Zoe to embody the cool and deadpan class of femme fatale but it just lands monotonous, gappy and feels half-hearted. This is one of the many moments where the editing and pacing of the film is distracting and exposeses the thinner performances and script. In this scene we’re not impressed, threatened or seduced by these vampires. And it’s definitely not helped by the costumes. Blaire is dressed in black wet look leggings and a gold lamé bomber jacket complete with a sports bra and body chain underneath. These are meant to be vampire party girls, walking past the queues outside clubs and straight to the VIP section, and yet they’re dressed in the sort of outfit a 12-year-old might have dreamt of putting together in 2014.
Blaire and Zoe’s lackadaisical energy does, however, strengthen into an interesting and almost uncanny presence eventually. And yet, it’s not enough to distract from Zoe’s metallic leggings and the 2010s side braid exposing a spiked ear cuff. These costumes get even more egregious when you learn the two friends met in the 1970s when Zoe was a David Bowie megafan, which was when she turned Blaire into a vampire. You would think in that time they would have amassed an exciting, and not entirely flammable, vintage wardrobe.
The film is energised when Benny finds a magical key fob for the vampiric members’ club and a bag full of money covered in blood. Lendeborg makes a likable lead, heading up a cast that pulls the film along better than the plot does. It continues to unfold with the return of Allen, perfecting the British Bad Guy role, and appearances by Megan Fox and Sydney Sweeney as charming and funny vampiric mean girls. Of course the costume offences continue, with Fox’s black leotard and sequinned cape outfit making more of an impact than her short cameo.
However, the scenes with these more eccentric vampires are a highlight and completely underutilised. Speaking of heavy lifting, shots of the LA nightscape that bookend most scenes create a futuristic and almost hallucinatory setting and work well to imbue a real area of LA with a fantastical mythology. The setting of Boyle Heights, a historically Chicano/Mexican-American neighbourhood, could easily be seen as a parable for gentrification (especially when every vampire we meet is white) but the film never pushes the audience to that conclusion. And that is the most interesting thing operating in the film.
Night Teeth eventually wanders into a suddenly very melodramatic finale with an emotional crux that doesn’t seem to make much sense tonally. It could easily be a satisfying and enjoyable Halloween watch although, unfortunately, it lacks the humour, extravagance or self-reflexivity that makes most modern vampire films work.
Night Teeth is available to stream exclusively on Netflix now
by Madeleine Sinclair
Madeleine Sinclair @madeleinia
Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.