Douglas Maroney is out stealing a bike with his friend when his target punches him in the face, knocking his tooth loose. His put-upon dad takes him to the dentist to get it pulled, but Dr. Caine is a frightening proposition, especially when the dentist discovers a cavity to be filled.
Douglas chooses to get only the tooth pulled -- a scary, traumatic experience, made even weirder when Douglas discovers that the dentist keeps a jar of teeth as "trophies." When Douglas shares his experience with his friends, they hatch a plan with an older sister to get the teeth back and sell them back to kids at school for tooth fairy money. And if they get revenge on the scary dentist in the process, so much the better...
Written and directed by Alex Morsanutto, this entertaining action-comedy thriller is an intriguing combination of The Goonies meets Ocean's Eleven, with the narrative strands united by dynamic craft, up-tempo pacing and a sense of mischief and humor. Engaging from beginning to end, it's a fun twist on the classic heist film, bringing together a loose association of misfits into a mission that solidifies friendships and retrieves what was taken from them.
The smart writing and stylish filmmaking uses the tropes of horror -- surreal close-ups, lurid lighting and expressionist angles -- to portray the experience of going to the dentist as almost medieval-like torture, full of strange instruments, long needles and plenty of blood. The contrast of the artistry's vivid, visceral intensity with the workaday trade of dentistry is funny, but it also captures the traumatic POV of many children's experience of going to the dentist, which fuels the near-universal animosity that Douglas and his friends feel towards their childhood nemesis, "Dr. Novacaine."
Young actor Jonathan P. O'Reilly leads an appealingly scrappy cast, who collectively play the kids without cutesiness or innocence. Douglas begins the film up to no good, but he and his buddies have plenty of inventiveness, which they use to concoct a complex plan to retrieve the teeth. Watching them execute it has plenty of momentum and suspense, leading to a confrontation with Dr. Caine. The fact that it takes place in a dentist's office over a pile of teeth doesn't take away from its drama or tension or from the genuine sweetness of its ending, which possesses both the sense of innocence restored and another step taken towards maturity.
Beyond their stories and characters, the appeal of films and TV like The Goonies or Stranger Things is how it portrays kids as smart, clever and resourceful, but without the grown-up burdens of maturity or civility. They have an inherent sense of innovation that comes from not being fully immersed in the rules of adulthood, which "Operation: Cavity" deploys in service of a wildly entertaining and relatable story. It takes the problems of its characters seriously, but it also has knowing humor in using big-stakes cinematic storytelling for the seemingly smaller stakes of childhood. The combination makes for a compelling, charmingly feisty short with wit, broad appeal and an infectious sense of fun.