Tooth and Nail (2007)
Michael Kelly (Viper), Nicole DuPort (Dakota), Rider Strong (Ford), Alexandra Barreto (Torino), Emily Catherine Young (Nova), Robert Carradine (Darwin), Kevin E. Scott (Max), Rachel Miner (Neon), Michael Madsen (Jackal), Vinnie Jones (Mongrel)
Fuel Shortages/Societal Breakdown
“The end. The end of life as we know it. We didn’t see it coming, that’s for sure. I mean, who plans for an apocalypse? But you know the really funny thing? It wasn’t something big and horrible that did us in. It wasn’t nuclear war or a deadly virus or a comet crashing into the planet. It wasn’t over-population or global warming. I wish it was. You know, something… lofty and magnificent. Something worthy of exterminating most of the human race. No. In the end it was none of those things. We simply ran out of gas. In the year 2012, the gasoline ran out. You could almost hear the giant sucking sound as the last drop of crude was pumped from the Earth. Within a year the reserves were gone too. We were supposed to have 20 years of gas left. That’s what the experts said and… they were wrong. Detroit was still churning out gas guzzlers even as the wells went dry. You’d have thought we could survive without gas. But the end of gasoline meant the end of electricity, nuclear power. There’s coal, but you still need trucks to deliver the fuel. No electricity means no refrigerators, and that means spoiled food. In days the grocery stores were picked clean, within weeks there was looting, rioting, and chaos. The government had a plan, but it was too busy trying to stop the violence. When they finally declared martial law, it was already too late. Civilization collapsed into anarchy. The smart ones moved south, until they realized that millions of other smart people had the same smart idea. All those people in one place fighting for the same shelter and food, it was a bloodbath. Within three years more than two-thirds of the world’s population had starved to death, frozen to death, or slaughtered each other. The American dream became the American nightmare.” -Opening and mid-movie narration delivered by Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds.
THIS REVIEW IS DENSE WITH SPOILERS SO DON’T READ BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.
Originally, this movie was going to be column I was going to put up two weeks ago following Late August at the Hotel Ozone, but as I was watching it the opening narration reminded me that there was a new Mad Max movie coming out soon and that I would much rather be watching those movies than this, so I did. (Already you may be getting a feeling that Tooth and Nail doesn’t exactly grip me, you are correct.)
Tooth and Nail is another movie in the After Dark Horrorfest: 8 Films to Die For it came out the same year as Mulberry St. It is the last movie in the Horrorfest collection that is applicable to be reviewed in this column (though there is an After Dark original movie that I may get to at some point.) As you may recall, Mulberry St. was a decent movie hindered by budgetary and just general amateur filmmaker issues, does this one far any better? No. The answer is no. I said this review would have spoilers, so spoiler alert: this is boring and dumb.
Back when Tooth and Nail was released I was pumped by the idea of a post-apocalyptic horror movie even though it didn’t feature zombies, and with a cast including Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones, how could it go wrong? It was a simpler time people, I was maybe 19 when this finally hit DVD and I was still discovering my tastes as a
pretentious wad movie buff and hadn’t revisited Species just yet. Critics and regular movie-goers shat on this movie from a great height before I got a chance to see it so I was hesitant to spend money on a blind DVD purchase, then I discovered spaghetti westerns and I just never quite got around to watching this one at the time. Now I have decided to rectify that, may God have mercy on my soul.
After the opening narration we pop in on three people scavenging the ruins of Philadelphia for supplies. Ford (Rider Strong) hears a noise and goes over to investigate, finding Vinnie Jones dressed as Lister from Red Dwarf standing over a corpse. Jones runs off and they find a wounded woman huddling on the other side of a car, they decide to take her back to the hospital which they are currently holed-up in to try and save her life.
The woman, Neon (Rachel Minor) wakes up and seems to be alright so she comes out and meets Darwin (Robert Carradine), the leader of our protagonists’ group as he introduces her to Nova, Viper, Dakota, Yukon, Toreno, Slappy, Dildo, Spud, Zip-Top, Crankshaft, Felt-Tip, Billo, Felch, Stapler, Nipple, Velcro, and Extra Cheese. Tens of minutes elapses as a whole lot of boring unimportant shit happens, Viper leaves in a huff, and someone comes and kills Darwin because the production cannot afford to pay Robert Carradine any longer.
After another member of the group is chased down by a bunch of large barbarian types and axed by an unusually invested Michael Madsen (it’s almost like he cares!), Neon mentions that she was running from this tribe (called rovers) for some time. The good news is they only take one person a day to help pad out the shelf-life of their food stores but the protagonists are still outnumbered and outmatched. They elect Neon leader, since she knows about the rovers, and Neon recommends they split up and hide or all break for different exits in hope that some of them may escape.
Night one goes really bad and our protagonists are reduced to three willowy women, a mute girl (there’s that trope again!), and a terminally wounded man. Neon insists they should split up again but Dakota points out that that’s stupid and says it seems like Neon isn’t terribly invested in their survival, Neon admits she’s in cahoots with the cannibals and shoots Torino.
Neon drags Dakota over to the rovers’ camp and locks her in a cell, explaining that she’s the rovers’ leader and she works as bait/an infiltrator to help them feed. She goes off to the hospital to raid (though why they need to, since Nova is the only person who can still even walk, is unknown.) But hey, Viper shows back up and he and Dakota go back to the hospital to save Nova and stop the rovers.
Unfortunately the plot requires for Dakota to have a really big lone-wolf moment so Viper is brought back into the movie to be a bad-ass for a couple of scenes before earning a cheap death. After Viper’s death there’s really no point, but the movie goes on anyway and we get to watch Dakota ineffectually try to fight off the rovers and Nova locking Vinnie Jones in a freezer and calling him a “retard” (her one line in the entire movie.) The rovers escape with Nova and the bodies of Ford and Torino while Dakota paints herself up like King Diamond for no apparent reason and heads for their camp.
The rovers all get sleepy and sit there in a daze as Dakota walks up and casually murders all of them, explaining to Neon that she dosed up Ford and Torino’s bodies with enough painkillers to put Iggy Pop in a coma. She then kills Neon, grabs Nova, and gives some generic voice-over about how they will fight tooth and nail to survive.
Tooth and Nail is basically a dry run for The Day; it hits all the same story beats, has a similar set-up, even the midway twist is similar. Unfortunately, this comparison is anything but flattering. Where The Day was effortlessly and flawlessly paced and executed Tooth and Nail is a hot mess. It’s biggest problem is that it tries to be a horror movie, which would be fine if it did something to build tension, but there are only a couple of scenes that even attempt to make the movie feel like a horror movie. The rest of the scenes are just general post-apocalyptic stuff which would be fine if they served a purpose to the greater narrative but they don’t. There is easily a good 45 minutes of this movie that serve no purpose to narrative or characterization, it’s juts people talking about water purifiers and how much of a tool Darwin is.
Then there’s our extinction event. Darwin tells the audience that the Earth ran out of fossil fuels and there was rioting and looting in the streets, causing the collapse of society. It’s far-fetched but it works. The problem is that the writer felt the need to have Darwin go into deeper detail and that’s where things fall apart. Apparently the lack of fossil fuels caused nuclear power to fail; why? Coal was still plentiful but unusable since trains and trucks require fuel to transport coal to other places, as we know the use of coal followed the invention of the internal combustion engine and the first automobile and it was never transported by wagon or steam engine. Then there are alternative energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro-electric power; not to mention alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel that aren’t addressed at all.
Darwin even goes out of his way to mention that there wasn’t any war or big life-altering event. People just looted all the grocery stores because their power went out, then moved south to get away from the cold and started murdering each other. Even if the entire world ran out of gas right now, it’s not as though food would be less plentiful. Oh sure, our selection would be limited but we’d not be eating each other any time soon. If anything, the death of planes, trains, and automobiles as well as the end of industry and a reduction in the population should mean that the world would be dense with plants and animals.
The reason we bought the fuel shortages bit in the Mad Max series is because A) Australia is seen as a large desolate wasteland by most of the world, B) The fuel shortages were hinted at at best and even then were played out as one amongst a series of problems on the rise, C) It was the late 70s and fuel alternatives were more scarce, and D) There was an actual nuclear war involved in the apocalypse in that series.
Another issue is the big twist; its way too obvious. All Neon’s injuries are “internal” and she’s up and off that hospital bed in no time with nary an ill effect. Then she’s recommending the group run or hide when anybody can figure out that sticking together and making a stand would be the smartest thing to do. Plus she’s so knowledgeable about the rovers and how they work that she’s obviously a plant and anybody watching could see this twist telegraphed from a mile away. You have to be willfully dense not to at least suspect.
The movie tries to throw the audience a curveball by making us think that Michael Madsen’s character is the rovers’ leader but the man apparently demands a larger paycheck than Vinnie Jones or Robert Carradine because he’s out after only a couple of short scenes. There’s a token attempt to make it seem like Viper engineered the whole thing but it feels unlikely.
The big reveal is also a stumbling block for the movie as it kills the momentum and that’s a big deal. This movie is slooooooooow to get moving and even slower to get to the point, but it does finally seem to be heading toward a satisfying climax as what’s left of the protagonists get ready to hold their own against the rovers as they attack on the second night. The smart move would be to give them the dying, but still very lucid, Ford to buy themselves another day to prepare and plan, which would make for a deliciously bleak moment, or just make a stand and fight the rovers off.
Neon just deciding to reveal herself after a minimal amount of probing on Dakota’s side just kills the third act, though it could be saved if Viper’s return was particularly triumphant, unfortunately it’s just a diversion to pad out the running time. Michael Kelly gets screwed out of another apocalypse movie but this time there aren’t even other characters to potentially outshine him, so his casting feels like a complete waste.
The ending and the final speech are a pretty good thesis statement for a movie that doesn’t seem to support it. This movie needed to be a lot more brutal than it was and feature a lot less arguing and whining on the part of its main characters to fit the “tooth and nail” message that the movie sends. There’s a lot of wasted potential here that could’ve made for a really good movie but all these disparate pieces don’t even add up to the sum of their parts and that’s a shame.
NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
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