Imagine a future that has seen the end of the world. Now imagine that a virus, overpopulation, nuclear war, a meteor, or even global warming did not cause the end: "We simply ran out of gas." These words were spoken via a voiceover narration at the beginning of "Tooth & Nail," a post-apocalyptic thriller founded on the idea that the world's gasoline reserves will be completely drained by the year 2012. This doesn't sound too devastating, but think about it--no gas means vehicles will be unable to operate, and inoperative vehicles means that vital goods and services can no longer be delivered. But it's even worse than that. No gas also means no electricity, and no electricity means no way of making, packaging, and preserving food. In this new world, most of the population died because they starved to death.
This idea is quite original and interesting. Unfortunately, it's merely the framework for the actual plot, and I'm sorry to say that the plot is pretty weak. It begins as an engaging character study but ends as a brutal, bloody slugfest, and this is bad because it actually tries to be a morality play at the same time. It also relies on a predictable plot twist that doesn't do justice to the originality of the idea--by then, the story was less interesting and more routine. I had high hopes for "Tooth & Nail," simply because it started off so well; it begins with three foragers wandering the streets of Philadelphia, searching for whatever they can use to survive. Ford (Rider Strong) sees a figure running off after slitting a man's throat, and just as he's about to take the dead man's watch, they find a young woman, weak, hurt, and begging for help. Ford opts to leave her, but Dakota (Nicole DuPort) and Shepherd (Patrick Durham) decide to do the more humane thing and take her with them.
For these three foragers, home is an abandoned Philadelphia hospital, and they share it with a number of other survivors. A scholarly-type named Darwin (Robert Carradine) leads this group. Because he spends a great deal of time designing a gasoline-related contraption, he doesn't do much to help the others with their daily chores, such as fixing the water pump and maintaining security. As he's introduced, the passive nature of the followers indicates that he's rapidly losing their respect. Only one--the quick-tempered Viper (Michael Kelly)--vocally opposes Darwin's methods, which puts him at odds with the rest of the group. It gets even worse when the rescued girl enters the picture: her name is Neon (Rachel Miner), and right off the bat, Viper doesn't trust her. Where did she come from? Why is she in Philadelphia? Who was the dead man she was found with? Not knowing the answers to these questions is too risky in Viper's book.
But as it turns out, they have more important things to worry about. A savage band of cannibals called Rovers close in on the hospital, and they begin well-orchestrated attacks every night. Led by the sadistic whistler Jackal (Michael Madsen), their assaults are violent and downright disgusting; they rely on a myriad of weapons to make kills--such as axes, bats enhanced with nails, and meat cleavers--and every death scene features over the top gore effects. According to Neon, who claims to have lost her entire family to the Rovers, they don't rely on dead bodies for food simply because they rot too quickly. This makes sense: fresh meat is always better.
At a certain point, when only a small portion of Darwin's group is left, Neon's knowledge of the Rovers gets her elected as a leader. Not that anyone is comfortable with the idea; if anything, they accept her begrudgingly, more the result of desperation than respect. A plan needs to be worked on soon--the Rovers are getting hungrier, and food is well within their reach.
The rest of the film follows a formula that puts twists and turns ahead of appropriate storytelling; it seemed as if secrets were revealed just for the sake of revealing secrets, of showing how cleverly constructed a screenplay can be. But is this level of structural development necessary? Does the plot really need a hidden agenda to surprise the audience with? In this case, I don't think so; "Tooth & Nail" took the time to introduce an original concept, and it should have been given the chance to actually utilize it. By the end, all we end up getting is a run of the mill shock fest, a film that pays lots of attention to violence and blood but not enough to plot.
Take, for example, the character of Nova (Emily Catherine Young)--she's a mute young girl who clings to Dakota like a frightened child, and she spends a great deal of time rollerblading down the halls of the hospital. This is virtually all we know about her, and that's incredibly disappointing. I wanted to know so much more about her, especially when it comes to her relationship with Dakota. Why do the two share such a strong bond? Is there a pseudo mother/daughter relationship alluded to, here? I unfortunately can't answer these questions. However, I can say plenty about the Rovers: the way they kill; the way they eat; the way some of them file their teeth down to sharp points, giving them the authentic look of carnivores. If the intention of "Tooth & Nail" was to be a gory exploitation film--and it seems to me that it is--then the gas-related framing device is essentially meaningless. That requires more intellectual processing than horror-driven blood and violence can handle.