There’s a wide disparity in terms of how much kids these days get for their lost teeth — the Tooth Fairy does not seem to be particularly equitable or consistent in her going rate. But in Milk Teeth, this is no ordinary tooth fairy — this is no tooth fairy at all, nor parents posing as her. Directed by Felipe Vargas and written by Nick Lopez, this horror fantasy takes us to an orphanage where boys get few treats in their lives, let alone any gifts under their pillows for lost teeth. Thomas (Aaron Bradshaw) is a lonely orphan, and each day tries to clean himself up and smile big in the hopes of getting adopted, flossing his teeth bloody and grinning until his face hurts.
Thomas is relentlessly bullied by older boys and has no confidantes, so when he suddenly hears a voice calling his name and claiming to be his friend, he listens — no matter that this voice belongs to a clawed creature lurking within the orphanage’s plumbing. This sink demon (Teagan Wells, voiced by Lisa Dobbyn) has a hunger for teeth and beckons kids with an enchanting coo, offering them riches beyond their wildest dreams as long as they send teeth down the drain.
There’s a magical yet realist flair to the creepy fairy tale that ensues. As the children brutalize themselves and mangle their mouths to rip out more teeth to sell, Thomas’ increasingly toothless grin is a revolting sight (which explains why it sends any potential adoptive parents running).
The story could offer a little more to chew on in terms of explaining the demon’s intentions with Thomas, and could use some clarity in the moral implications of its tale. The flashes of religious icons and pious praying throughout suggests a spiritual angle or medieval influence that are never fully brought into the light, and when the clawed creature crawls out and confronts Thomas — presenting him with a bloody tooth to put back in his mouth — it’s not quite clear what the demon is trying to accomplish with these poor orphans.
Milk Teeth is a thesis film that accomplishes some admirable special effects with its demon and has effective art direction and creature effects by Kat Wells: the creature’s mangled hands and lengthy claws seem stylistically akin to one of the beasts in Pan’s Labyrinth, and its gnarled form means it’s certain to plague the sleep of viewers of all ages. Wells reportedly spent over 150 hours working on the sink demon, and her handcrafted care shows in the final product. Though the sonic atmosphere and distortions of the demon’s voice are slightly hollow, the strong visuals and wide-eyed performance from Bradshaw give this film plenty of heart.
There are lots of pretty (and pretty creepy) things to look at in this student creation about isolation, rejection, and monsters within, though it can often feel like pulling teeth (pun fully intended) trying to wrench the intended meaning from its story. Overall, Milk Teeth is a bit light on thematic impact, and its twisted take on the tooth fairy might not get quite twisted enough for all audiences — but it’s still a fantastical snippet of practical effects and student ingenuity.