Tooth and Nail opens with a montage of familiar post-apocalyptic images: trash-littered streets with decomposing corpses strewn about. A female voiceover warns, “We never saw it coming, that’s for sure.” As the shots accumulate, the canted high angles and digital graininess start resembling that other edgy post-apocalyptic film, 28 Days Later. But wait, it’s different. The narrator rattles off a list of end-times possibilities—“It wasn’t nuclear war or a deadly virus or a comet crashing into the planet”—before she admits, “We simply ran out of gas.” After some 30 years of oil crises and doomsday warnings, I’m pretty sure someone saw this coming.
These first moments set up the film’s unimaginative indulgence in post-apocalyptic movie clichés. The scary setting seems based in a real world scenario, but is also plainly drawn from previous films—it could easily be Alien‘s Nostromo, The Matrix‘s Zion, or even The Descent‘s uncharted cave. As a result, Mark Young’s movie looks and sounds a lot like a generic mash-up, only sapped of the interesting bits.
Tooth and Nail
Michael Madsen, Rachel Miner, Rider Strong, Nicole Du Port, Robert Carradine, Michael Kelley
(After Dark Films)
US theatrical: 9 Nov 2007 (Limited release)
Our voice-over explains that after the gas ran out, riots ensued and martial law was declared. Citizens starved, froze, and pummeled one another. And now, with the world in such a dreadful state, a small band of survivors have holed up in a large hospital in a vacant downtown Philadelphia. They wear trench coats and combat boots, they eat soy gruel. Identified in the credits as “The Foragers,” they delegate tasks to survive, but with their days monotonous and their future bleak, individuals have grown restless. We join the group as they discover another, solo survivor, Neon (Rachel Miner). She’s injured and needs help, and so they take her in.
For a horror film, Tooth and Nail lacks both rudimentary emotional appeal and action, which leaves the audience too much time to ponder the group’s internal struggles. Sadly, these are superficial, and the performances that are supposed to convey them are sub-par. The leader, Darwin (Robert Carradine), also inexplicably called The Professor, looks terminally smug in a beard and glasses, except when he’s having noisy sex with survivor-babe Dakota (Nicole Du Port). Underlings Ford (Rider Strong) and Viper (Michael Kelley) are both alpha male types, who are tired of taking orders and worse, not getting laid. When Viper leaves the group in a huff, taking most of the weapons with him, the hospital comes under siege by a gang of cannibals called Rovers. They mean to pick off The Foragers one by one, as well as keep the meat fresh and the tensions high.
On top of this basic slasher film framework, Young piles all sorts of regurgitated nonsense, so obviously derivative and preachy that it’s hard to tell how serious or satirical the film is meant to be. Consider the mute, disheveled little girl named Nova (Emily Catherine Young): her undomesticated demeanor and ragged appearance recall Road Warrior‘s Feral Kid by way of Aliens’ Newt, only without any of the kick-ass survival skills. When at last Nova finds her voice, she’s got it just long enough to call a captured Rover a “Retard,” the same insult that Ford has repeatedly hurled at her, to everyone else’s chagrin (“She’s not a retard!”). Predictably, Nova gives Dakota occasion for some hardcore mothering, as the two huddle in a room, while Dakota sings “Hush Little Baby” under slow dissolves of their desolate surroundings. The moment might have been touching (“I promise I’ll never leave you, Nova.”), but it’s overwhelmed by trite imagery and slapdash sentimentality.
True to genre, Dakota ends up a Final Girl, battling all the dead-enders. Decked out in war paint and armed with lactic acid (no joke), she takes on the gang of lumbering male brutes and their conniving Queen Bee, while, oh yes, the film urges us to contemplate our gas guzzling and self-destructive natures. From cannibals to fossil fuels to the maternal savior (and in case you missed it, most characters’ names are car makes and models), the film is so excited by its own topical cleverness it prematurely ejaculates before any themes or characters have a chance to develop. Visually imitative, poorly paced, and woefully acted, Tooth and Nail might make you wish for an apocalypse long before the credits roll.