Judge Gordon Sullivan thought Oral Fixation was a toothpaste-flavored soda pop.
Finding a good dentist can be hard…making him love you can be murder.
There are few things more depressing in the life of a film reviewer than seeing a good idea marred by poor execution. It's doubly depressing when the feature is an independent film and obviously a labor of love. Oral Fixation is just such a disappointment, a flick with a wicked little premise that can't decide if it's a black-comedy gorefest or a taut psychological thriller.
Oral Fixation starts with a great idea: Rachel (Emily Parker, Scalp) is so in love with her dentist (Kerry Aissa) that she's willing to mutilate herself in order to see him. His wife (Aidan Sullivan), gets suspicious as our "heroine's" attentions become more ardent (and she becomes more willing to get violent to get her ideal man). Eventually husband and wife must fight back together against this crazy stalker.
Oral Fixation has all the hallmarks of a great black comedy: actors willing to go the distance, a wickedly nasty narrative idea, lots of excuses to show the darker impulses behind seemingly innocent activities (like going to the dentist). Oral Fixation also has all the necessary parts to be an effective psychological killer. We've got a bubbly, seemingly nice woman who hides her obsessive tendencies well. We've got a good-looking professional family man with stable marriage just ripe for growing suspicion and intrigue. Mixing in the dental angle provides numerous opportunities for innocent encounters between Rachel and her dream dentist to go terribly, terribly wrong.
The problem is that Oral Fixation never settles on which category it wants to fall into. It's not nearly realistic enough to be an effective psychological thriller, and not over the top enough to stand with the top tier of black/horror comedies. Any shot at psychological realism goes immediately out the window. The film starts from Rachel's point of view as she narrates her love of Dr. Paul. She's already obviously insane, and the film misses a big opportunity by starting with her so completely off her rocker. Because we know she's completely insane, there's very little tension in the rest of the film, especially when it comes to the relationship between Paul and his wife. The audience knows completely that Paul is being stalked and has done nothing to encourage Rachel's behavior, which makes Paul's wife look bad for suspecting him at all. Even the generally odious Obsessed got that part right. If the audience doesn't suspect the husband is at least flattered, if not outright encouraging of the woman's affections, most of the thrill in the film is lost. The final nail in the realism coffin is hammered by the "explanation" for Rachel's condition. Apparently her father was a mad scientist who rewired her brain to feel pain as pleasure while fixating on anyone who looks like her crazy father. Paul is the object of Rachel's affection purely because he resembles her father.
This scene is so patently ridiculous that it's almost laughable. The film, however, fails to capitalize on its more ridiculous aspects. Instead, this scene, like so many others is played just straight enough to look inept rather than funny. A little wiggle room either way and we could have laughed with the actors at the silliness or laughed at them for taking the material seriously. As it is the film seems ambivalent towards its subject matter. That same ambivalence extends to the violence as well. The film obviously wants to paint a portrait of a crazy woman who revels in pain, but it generally fails to give the audience the complete picture. Some scenes, like when Rachel runs a kitchen knife between her toes while talking to Paul or pulls a tooth out as an excuse to see him, have a certain squirm-inducing charm. However, for a film about a dentist there is a pathetic lack of unnerving scenes or gore. Again, if the film had started us off with Rachel being relatively normal, building up to her insanity, there would have been numerous opportunities to freak the audience out. As it is, the few scenes of horror don't seem to belong.
For an independently produced low-budget picture Oral Fixation gets a fine DVD release. The film has a slight digital patina in the transfer, but it's never really distracting. The audio does a fine job with the dialogue and music, although it's nothing special. Extras include a commentary with the film's director where he shares the trials and tribulations of low-budget film making and the rocky road Oral Fixation had to release. There's also a short behind-the-scenes featurette that goes back to the film's locations two years later which gives the director a chance to talk about them in relation to the film.
There are far worse films out there than Oral Fixation, but that's not enough to recommend it to most. The premise is delightfully creepy, and those with a serious fear of the dentist might find this one scary enough to warrant a watch, but most viewers should find something else to do with their time.
Oral Fixation is like pulling teeth. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Life Size Entertainment
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