The world ran out of gasoline. As a result, the world ended. What follows in Tooth and Nail is essentially a debate about the meaning of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Does Survival of the Fittest describe a world where the apex predators feed on everyone else, or a world where the smartest and most adaptable animals thrive? Tooth and Nail has small ambitions. It doesn’t bother much with the logic of its world – lots of communities function without gasoline? – but provides the audience with a situation, and then forces its characters to adapt when their circumstances change through a series of violent acts. In a dog-eating-dog world, will it be the gatherers or the hunters who thrive?
Tooth and Nail has two groups of survivors acting out this debate. There are the rovers, a group of cannibals who corner other groups of survivors and then procedure to systematically pick them off one by one. They get away with this by using their superior numbers, and the fact that all of them are physically imposing and (hah) well fed. The other group, refereed to as the “foragers” by the IMDB page but never said by anyone in the film, is left scrambling as a series of their plans for survival all fall through.
Tooth and Nail lags in the first third, taking too long to establish the true conflict and get to the interesting character development. I almost turned it off, but managed to sit through to the middle, where things got interesting. Again, Tooth and Nail doesn’t do all that much, but it has a clear idea of what it wants to talk about and once it gets there, it makes a very convincing argument.
In this movie, survival of the fittest means survival of the adaptable. Not survival of the best predator. It’s a simple idea, but beautifully executed. It would have been even better if it hadn’t taken the film two acts to get to the point.
Tooth and Nail is clearly shot on a small budget and doesn’t always utilize its scenery as well as it could, but – again – once it gets going, the film does have things to say about people who clearly look dangerous, and the fact that the real villain looks like the stereotypical final girl you’d find in a slasher.
As for the Rovers, not much can be said of their performances. Tooth and Nail indicates that they have a sort of pack mentality going on, which doesn’t allow for much individualism. This is one of the few films where the lack of individuality actually worked in favor of the villains. It’s scarier because they work as a team, and there is absolutely no hint of friction or conflict in the group; unlike the Foragers, who are constantly bickering, the Rovers are a well-oiled machine – they are very good at what they do, and know exactly how to go about it. There are two notable exceptions, however. Vinnie Jones obviously had a blast playing Mongrel, though Tooth and Nail sadly didn’t give him much to do. Rachel Miner had a similarly interesting performance as Neon, the designated pack leader of the Rovers, picked not because of her brawn (she’s tiny), but because of her ruthless intelligence. I do wish the film had exposed her as a villain earlier, since she’s a joy to watch on screen once she reveals her true colors. Sadly, Tooth and Nail just doesn’t give her all that much to do. I would definitely watch a film with Mongrel and Neon wrecking havoc – the actors obviously had a fun time playing the roles, and were well-cast.
I enjoyed Tooth and Nail a lot more than I expected to. It takes a long time to get to the point and uses too much voice-over, but if you can forgive those sins, then you might enjoy the surprisingly nuanced debate on Darwinism and human nature. Go see it.