Roundtable: “Night Teeth”

Art and Entertainment writer Medha Upadhyay interviews the stars of the new Netflix film “Night Teeth” in a Zoom roundtable.

The UCSD Guardian sat down over Zoom with Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Raúl Castillo, Lucy Fry, and Debby Ryan to discuss their experiences filming Adam Randall’s vampire flick, representation in the writer’s room, and the value of filmic escapism.

“Night Teeth” follows a college student pulled into a longstanding battle between humans and vampires when he takes over his brother’s chauffeur job. Jorge Lendeborg Jr. takes center stage as Benny, who is unwittingly dragged into a simmering battle with Los Angeles’ hidden vampire population. Lendeborg’s charm is one of the best things about this movie and his emotional range captures the highs and lows that Benny experiences over the course of a wild night — Lendeborg switches effortlessly from terrified student to dedicated family man to courageous warrior.

“Benny doesn’t know what’s happening after the next thing; the way he sees life is very close and very present, not so much looking into the future,” Lendeborg Jr. said. “And I feel that I’m like that as well. So in my preparation, I just tapped into that sense of ‘whatever is happening in front of me is a reality that I’m faced with.’ But also keeping in mind that Benny is a nice kid who looks up to his brother.”

Benny’s older brother Jay, played by Raúl Castillo, is deeply embroiled in the hidden world of vampires. Jay takes on the role of a leader, having to make tough decisions after the long-standing peace is broken. Castillo brings the world-weary Jay to life with his fleeting expressions and body language, moving seamlessly from frightened fighter to protective older brother.

“Adam had a wonderful way of empowering me as an actor.” Castillo said. “I felt supported and I had this amazing cast around me; it was a lot of fun to move into that space. And it was funny because “Night Teeth” came on the heels of my shooting for ‘Army of the Dead,’ a zombie movie where I was carrying an AK-47, and ‘Wrath of Man’ where I was carrying a rifle as well. I was breaking a lot of heads and shooting a lot of guns, so I felt very primed for vampire killing by the time ‘Night Teeth’ rolled around.”

While Jay is a vampire expert, Benny is blissfully unaware at the beginning of the movie. It is this web of secrets that ultimately pulls Benny into the feud — the betrayal and subsequent growth that the brothers must go through makes up a hefty part of the film.

“Within the genre of vampires and these larger-than-life elements, ‘Night Teeth’ is deeply rooted in family, which I just connected with,” Castillo said. “I was just taken by the storyline of these two brothers. This guy is watching his little brother become a man, in essence, which I thought was really relatable … I still have the impulse to ‘big brother’ Jorge, even when I see him right now.”

Benny and Jay’s Latinx heritage is also a strong undercurrent throughout the film. The accurate Hispanic representation in “Night Teeth” was a priority for the cast and crew; the attention to detail served to make the film realistic.

“When I read this script — it was clear that they had hired a Latinx writer to work on it,” Castillo said. “And it showed. I mean, it showed in the dialogue but it also showed in the scenic descriptions; the world was really well done and I appreciated it. Oftentimes, you read scripts and the Spanish is written badly or the cultural nuances aren’t really captured because they haven’t hired the right person. So it’s exciting that the industry is shifting and people are looking out for that kind of thing.”

Lucy Fry and Debby Ryan find their places as Zoe and Blaire, the henchwomen sent after Jay only to end up trapping Benny instead. Fry shines as the unhinged and sadistic Zoe, and is by far the most frightening part of this film. Zoe feels like a true villain, driven only by rage and fear. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, attacking her foes with cruel words and bloody blows throughout the film. She is willing to risk it all to get to the top, and that ambition really makes her character pop.

“Seeing Zoe’s drive and her ambition and wanting to take her best friend on that journey to being the queens of LA; that was something that was exciting to me,” Fry said.

The close bond between Zoe and Blaire also makes up a large part of “Night Teeth”’s appeal.

“With them, their friendship is their superpower,” Fry said. “Their biggest superpower and gift, at least for Zoe, is this friendship with Blaire. And that brings out this light and this joy and this playfulness, which I think is a huge part of the film and why it’s so much fun to watch. That was the thing that was really attractive about the script: these two women who maybe would have been supporting characters in the ‘90s or whatever. And now it’s their story and the friendship that they have, and the intensity of that friendship.”

Debby Ryan pulls off the disenchanted accomplice with ease, looking up through her bangs with doe eyes in one frame and ruthlessly stabbing enemies in the next. Blaire functions as the emotional core of the film; she must decide between her chosen sister, Zoe, and the sudden burst of humanity that Benny offers.

“As Blaire is seeing what real humanity looks like, and tenderness and compassion, she’s realizing how little of that is present in her day-to-day life,” Ryan said. “So it really is not even good versus evil, but this sort of heart versus body … Blaire meets Benny and realizes that, maybe I’m projecting, but love can be about respecting someone and just wanting them to succeed instead of controlling someone and trying to keep them calm because they can be scary when they fly off the handle. I think it’s a really beautiful thing for a person to discover — all in one night! Ten years of work for me, but good for her. Blaire learns fast!”

Even though it is a vampire movie, “Night Teeth” is definitely not a horror film; there aren’t many scares and the story barely even dips into the paranormal or spooky. If forced into a category, “Night Teeth” might be best described as a high-octane heist movie.

“Although this is a more teen-based flick, it still skews edgier than, you know, ‘Kissing Booth’ or ‘To All the Boys,’” Lendeborg said. “So as far as being in that playing field, I’m really happy that I got something with a little bit more ‘presupuesto’, something that has a little bit more of a driving force behind it.”

The cinematography and set design truly stand out as the brightest points of this movie; the nearly two-hour runtime passes in a blink as the film moves from one sleek shot to the next. The fight choreography also came through very well on the screen, as every stunt looked fluid and realistic.
“Lucy and Debby were really fired up to do some of the action sequences — they weren’t scripted as such,” Lendeborg said. “They really elevated the material.”

Ryan attributed the fight sequence’s success to director Randall’s vision and flexibility. The culture of mutual respect and teamwork was a key component that allowed everyone to deliver their best work.

“Adam learned Lucy has been training in martial arts for a long time, and I trained boxing,” says Ryan. “And so when he learned that, he built in fight sequences, and allowed us to do this in a very real way. Adam has this strong technical vision and a beautiful cinematographer that he worked with; it was so much trust, and it was so much collaboration. He would also make playlists of the energy that you’re feeling during the scene. He just is really cool.”

Overall, “Night Teeth” delivered exactly what it promised: anyone looking for a light, snappy movie with sleek shots and a charming main character will find “Night Teeth” to be 107 minutes well spent.

“It has cute vampires,” says Lendeborg. “It has me in a cute suit. It’s fun, but you don’t got to invest so much time. It’s a great distraction from whatever you might have going on. And it’s something you can plug into and plug out of quite easily. I think it’s a — I’m not gonna say ‘perfect movie.’ But if you write ‘perfect movie,’ I’m not gonna be against it.”

Director: Adam Randall
Starring: Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Debby Ryan, Lucy Fry, and Raúl Castillo
Release Date: 10/20/2021
Rated: TV-14

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone.