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Tooth And Nail
cast: : Nicole DuPort, Rider Strong, Robert Carradine, Michael Madsen, and Vinnie Jones

writer and director: Mark Young

90 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Showbox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Mark West
I'll be honest, I don't think I'm part of the demographic that the producers for this film were aiming for. If I'd seen this in Blockbuster, I'd have walked straight past and missed something that is, actually, very good. Consider my point - the cover shows a rotted corpse, skulls and a man with an axe; it's called Tooth And Nail and Vinnie Jones and Michael Madsen are heavily billed. That's not what this film is at all.

In 2012, the world suddenly runs out of oil and chaos ensues, with civilisation effectively falling apart. Anarchy breaks out, as everyone heads south, though certain groups stay close to home, attempting to re-start society in their own small way. Flash forward several years and we meet one such group, led by Professor Darwin (Robert Carradine), that have taken up residence in a local hospital. Darwin has big dreams for the future, designing equipment that could bring everything back on track, working around our reliance on 'gasoline' and trying to keep everyone safe and together.

A scouting party, led by Viper (Michael Kelly), with Ford (Rider Strong) and his girlfriend Torino (Alexandra Barreto) come across a violent mugging and manage to scare away Vinnie Jones. A girl - Neon (Rachel Miner) - has survived the attack and they take her back. She is accepted, with reservations, into the group and things move along as normal until Darwin is killed, his throat slit in the middle of the night. This opens the group to recriminations, the dynamic falls apart, people leave and Neon tells of the 'Rovers', a band of cannibals who picked off her family one by one. One of the group, Dakota (Nicole DuPort) who was with Darwin but obviously had some history with Viper, starts to assert herself, her character growing in strength and presence as she realises that she must make a stand, to save those around her.

Led by Michael Madsen, the Rovers arrive at the hospital and very soon the group is under siege. Suddenly, it's not about how they're going to cope in this brave new world, rather it becomes survival of the fittest. Allegiances change, characters get killed who you thought wouldn't and the tension is expertly maintained and tightened, right to the end.

I liked this, a lot. Obviously low-budget, this has excellent production values and a general feel to it that you don't often get with the kind of film this is being advertised as. It's well directed, with some beautiful compositions and plenty of Dutch angles that highlight the incredible sets and locations. The colour scheme and set design are both cold, almost clinical in their sparseness and there's a lot of grey light (indoors and out, with fine use made of bare trees too). There are several establishing shots of deserted cityscapes that are actually quite unsettling, more so because they're obviously real and not CGI-enhanced. The acting, across the board, is excellent and all of the characters are well developed, with hidden facets that reveal themselves gradually as the film goes on. The carefully used special effects, whilst brutal and often gruesome, don't feel as if they're there to get the gore crowd and, for the most part, look as you imagine such wounds would.

The film takes its time, allowing the viewer to get involved in what's happening, to question how they'd cope and whilst some characters obviously do things that are silly (this is a film, after all), they generally act with logic and reasoning. Even the assault of the Rovers is handled in a low-key manner, with spooky shots of them entering the hospital and checking out the deserted corridors and rooms, but very few moments are designed just to make you jump.

The dialogue is realistic and often very good. Towards the end, Dakota says "If they want to eat, they're going to have to pay for it," which works better than it reads here and also ties in nicely with the climax that she helps to set up. On occasion, we see Ford and Torino indulging in aggressive, noisy sex and it seems exploitative until the last bout, when she has the almost throwaway line of "you'll still protect me?" and you understand their motives, making the whole scene very sad.

The film does have its downsides, of course. The MacGuffin of the oil shortage quickly becomes irrelevant and at least one character disappears early on never to be mentioned again. Part of the selling angle, the big names, are also a cheat though I'm still undecided as to whether this is a downside or not. Madsen, who is also one of a fleet of executive producers, is only in the film for about five minutes and seems to be doing Mr Blond wearing furs. Vinnie Jones is his usual self, one of the more aggressive Rovers and he's okay though he does manage to spoil the denouement (not his fault, it has to be said, but his character is on-screen). Carradine has more of an extended cameo and does well, imbuing his character with desperation and dignity and it's a shame when he gets killed off so quickly.

Nova (Emily Catherine Young) is a young mute, who is called 'retard' regularly because she refuses to speak and so, in an instant, you know that - a) she will speak at some point and, b) you're pretty sure what word she'll say. Both of which, in my case, were right. Also, the names didn't work for me - calling the bulk of the characters after cars, when civilisation only just fell, seems an odd decision, a kind of character shorthand that wasn't really necessary.

I wanted a bit more from the climax (though it's very well done), as the two characters involved had built up a bit of history and I felt we needed more of a release. What does happen is in keeping with the films tone in general, but it would have been nice to see more. As for the title, I don't know why they thought it would be good - I guessed what it referred to (confirmed in the last line of the film), but it doesn't sum up the film at all.

On the screener copy were some trailers for other films and one for this, which loses the Carradine voiceover (giving his dialogue to the Neon character) for some reason and visually gives quite a bit away, whilst also bigging up Michael Madsen's role. There's also a 20 minute making of which is treasure trove of information, including the astonishing fact that this was written, cast and made in six weeks (including a 20-day shoot). Apparently, the producers were waiting for make 'Cabin Fever 2' and decided to slot this in beforehand. One amusing thing that came out involved the Rovers - I assumed they were stuntmen, recruited to lumber across the screen and look menacing but it appears they were all producers of the film!

Overall, this is a tense, intelligent film that works really well, relies on dialogue and atmosphere rather than shocks and gore and I would urge you to ignore the poster-art and give it a chance.

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