The vampire genre is a lot like a vampire: It has lived for hundreds of years, and every time you think it’s about to die off it gets an infusion of new blood. Since the logistics of neck-biting and blood-sucking are no longer incendiary, a vampire movie, novel, or TV series that strikes a chord will tend to be infused with a tasty metaphor, one that reaches beyond the “erotic” obvious. In the mid-’70s, when the genre had come to seem musty, Stephen King’s “‘Salem’s Lot” (1975) and Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” (1976) revived it by plugging the gothic tropes of old horror movies into the eccentric nooks and crannies of the contemporary world. “The Lost Boys” converted vampirism into ’80s youth-movie hipsterism, “True Blood” tapped the progressive side of vampires, and the “Twilight” books and blockbuster movies made the vampire into an expression of alienated teen-romantic outsider-ness. (Jim Jarmusch’s slow-drip “Only Lovers Left Alive” demonstrated, with a druggy wink, that sitting through a vampire movie could make you feel like you’d lived as long as a vampire.)
“Night Teeth,” a Netflix vampire thriller set in Los Angeles, would like, in some halfhearted way, to give a spin to the genre. The central character, Benny (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), is a gawky cute college kid and aspiring EDM composer who, filling in for his brother as a chauffeur, spends one long night driving around a pair of vampire vixens who come on as lethally jaded dolled-up party-hoppers. The dark-side-of-the-L.A.-club-scene premise has potential, but the movie turns out to be a cut-and-paste thriller without any night-world bloom to it.
It has none of the mystery or enticement or danger that gave those other vampire tales their bite. It’s indifferently told, with the air of a glum “action” crime film, though the real problem is that “Night Teeth” has no metaphor. None! I mean, you could count the fact that Zoe (Lucy Fry) and Blaire (Debby Ryan) are taunting fashionistas as an expression of something, but the film does next to nothing with it. “Are you out here every night, doing this Kill Bill shit?” asks Benny. Not every night, says Blaire. But the two look bored enough to suggest that yes, they do this Kill Bill shit every night.
Zoe, in leather pants, with a voracious grin and hair piled high on her head, is a bratty terrorist alpha female, like Harley Quinn minus the charm. Blaire, with a red-lipstick pout and bohemian bangs, is the “nice” one who flirts with Benny; when the people standing in a velvet-rope line mock him for being dressed like a service worker, she comes up and kisses him. That shuts them right up. For a few moments, the movie is “Twilight” meets “Vanderpump Rules.”
It’s possible to stage a nightclub sequence that makes the audience feel the surging excitement of it as well as a certain sensualized inhumanity. (One of the first, and best, of such scenes is the dance-floor episode in “RoboCop.”) But in “Night Teeth,” the clubs and parties are more empty than not; they’ve got a 3:00 a.m. straggler vibe. Beyond that, you always feel the filmmakers are shooting on midnight streets where they got a permit, and the entire street was cleared out, and it all seems stagy and desultory, and look, here’s an actor with a black-jean vest over his tattooed chest, playing a very L.A. badass who talks like he’s got a head cold. “You give good blood, don’t you?” he says to Benny after sniffing him, and that’s the film’s running catch phrase. Everyone seems to think that Benny will give good blood. Which makes you wonder how he’ll survive the night.
Benny’s surly older half-brother, Jay (Raul Castillo), manages the truce in the Hispanic neighborhood of Boyle Heights that was struck between the vampires and the humans. What that involves is fairly fuzzy; the arrangement feels more phoned in than fleshed out. When the truce falls apart, Victor (Alfie Allen), the British Eurotrash vampire who is Zoe’s boyfriend, launches an offensive to murder a network of “bosses” who make the vampire world akin to that of the Mafia. That, too, sounds like it has the makings of a good metaphor, if it’s what the movie was actually about. But this mob-war attack is just more murky background.
There are strenuously busy action scenes. There are scenes that nudge the plot along without connecting to anything else. And there’s the honestly creepy image of a row of glass booths in a basement where Victor keeps humans chained and unconscious, so they can be harvested for blood cocktails. It’s all served up, with glum sensation, for our entertainment, yet none of it invites our investment. The daylight still melts these vampires, but by the end of “Night Teeth” it’s the audience that feels melted down.