Teething (2020) | Directed by Glen Matthews
Canada | Colour | 9 Minutes
Written by Glen Matthews | Starring Josh Cruddas, Hugh Thompson, Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves
A dog’s bark pierces the silence of the night as a man emerges from a car into the shadows wearing a Michel Myers style jumpsuit. We are only a few seconds in and already there is an atmosphere of intrigue and dread. The man is John (Hugh Thompson), a janitor who has arrived to work a shift at an orphanage where strange occurrences are afoot.
In an office turned nursing room, a woman holds a baby closely as vintage music pipes its way out of an old radio, adding to the overall sense of foreboding. The woman is clearly pluckier and keener for conversation than John, who doesn’t reply to her pleasantries and instead sets about to undertake his duties. Before he does, however, she tells him how baby Bethany made her almost want to “throw her right down the stairs” because she was crying so much, which is owed to the fact that she is currently teething.
As we watch John complete various maintenance tasks, there is a face flinching scene where he appears to be unaffected whilst holding his hand under a hot tap. Rather than crying out or reacting he simply endures the pain which adds to the ambiguity of his character, who is something of a lost soul who struggles to socialise with others.
When he happens to pass a room full of cribs adorned with white lace (conjuring up great imagery of the gothic), he hears the sound of babies’ cries. Upon investigation, John discovers that there is, in fact, another presence in the orphanage that is putting the lives of many children under great risk. We glimpse at a creature momentarily in between flashes of light and monstrous, primal screams, as children sit innocently and helpless in their cribs. Will John find the inner courage to protect the babies from this invasive force or will he succumb to the clutches of the deadly creature?
With its shots of empty corridors and vacant spaces, Teething recalls at times the terrific Session 9, and in dealing with the theme of wanting to harm a child (especially when they are crying), it also touches on the much-explored genre of adults feeling a dissociation from children. Matthews does a great job of bringing the audience into this conflict by having the sounds of cries build and build until it becomes so unbearable that you have to close your eyes and turn down the volume. The creature itself is superbly realised and with its sensitivity to movement rather than sound, put me in mind of the monsters who dwell deep in the caves of Neill Marshall’s The Descent (2006).
Visually, the film has a polished aesthetic with high production values which have obviously been given a great level of thought and detail; such as in the office where a sign with a changeable clock on it bears the text ‘Will Return’. For a film that runs less than nine minutes, Teething packs a real guttural punch and manages to succeed in delivering some genuinely unpredictable and well-crafted narrative twists. One of the highlights is the final image, which won’t be spoiled here but is refreshingly provocative in that it feels tender but deeply disturbing. It seems like there is a great revival of the horror short at present and Teething is a stunning example of how sometimes less is more.