Ginger Snaps (2000)
“They Don’t Call It The Curse For Nothing”
Director: John Fawcett
Cast: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche
Synopsis: Two death-obsessed sisters, outcasts in their suburban neighborhood, must deal with the tragic consequences when one of them is bitten by a deadly werewolf.
Ok, let’s get it out of the way: the title Ginger Snaps refers not to a type of biscuit but the psychological and physical condition of 16-year-old Ginger, who suffers the misfortune of being mauled by a werewolf while having her first period. Shot on a minuscule budget, this independent horror movie won generally favourable reviews from critics when it was released in 2000, but failed to make much of an impression at the box office – although it was certainly more successful in the UK than the US.
Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) is one of two sisters, both of whom are social outcasts because of their morbid infatuation with gory death and suicide. In fact, after an attention-grabbing opening in which a toddler playing in a sandpit comes across the severed paw of the family pet before the camera takes a swift journey across Rover’s badly mutilated corpse, the credits sequence gives us a good insight into just how pre-occupied with death these girls are. We see them photographed in a number of quite convincingly staged death scenes which they have taken for a school project. Although the show wins the incredulous approval of the sisters’ classmates, their teacher (Peter Keleghan) finds it abhorrent and punishes them with a visit to the school counsellor.
The second sister is Brigitte (Emily Perkins) who, at fifteen, is a year younger than Ginger. While both girls are social outcasts at their school because of their Goth-like interests and unnaturally close relationship, Ginger at least has the interest of the boys because of her good looks, but Brigitte is a slightly-built girl whose plain features are of no interest to them. Nevertheless, Ginger shows no interest in these boys, preferring instead to engage her younger sister in conversations about the imagined deaths of classmates. One of these classmates is the cute but bitchy Trina (Danielle Hampton) who, upon hearing what the sisters have said about her, pushes Brigitte into the half-chewed remains of a dog – yet another victim of the ‘Beast of Bailey Downs.’
The sisters plan to get their own back by kidnapping Trina’s dog, but on their way they come across yet another mutilated corpse. Just at that moment, Ginger’s period starts, and the scent of her blood attracts the creature that killed the mangled corpse at her feet. Somehow, Ginger manages to escape the creature, despite receiving some horrifying wounds, and it’s run over by a truck driven by local drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemche). Examining her sister’s wounds when she gets her home, Brigitte is shocked to discover that they are already beginning to heal. A few days later, Ginger notices that there’s hair growing around the nearly-closed wounds, and a few days after that, a small tail begins protruding from the base of her spine. Something weird is definitely going on here, but Ginger refuses to allow Brigitte to tell their parents, and as her transformation gathers pace, the close relationship between the sisters begins to fall apart, forcing Brigitte to turn to Sam for help in finding a cure for Brigitte’s condition, which she rightly suspects to be lycanthropy…
Writer Karen Walton hits on a neat idea by combining and comparing the psychological and bodily changes that are heralded by a pubescent girl’s first period with the transformation undertaken by the infected survivor of a werewolf attack. But there’s also a second transformation taking place here: that of Brigitte, who is forced to move out from under her sister’s shadow and to learn to think independently. Both changes are handled convincingly by Fawcett, and both girls retain the essence of their character throughout, even though Ginger goes increasingly off the rails as her condition takes hold. And because of the nature of the story, much of customary werewolf lore is dispensed with in Ginger Snaps. It’s not necessary to find a silver bullet to kill one, for a start, and their murderous blood-lust isn’t totally confined to nights of the full moon. Ginger’s transformation is a slow cycle which only reaches its climax during a full moon, which gives the screenplay time to explore in depth the changes to her character and body, and the realignment of her relationship with Brigitte.
At the time of its release, Ginger Snaps managed to provide its audience with a new perspective on a familiar tale, making it fairly unique within the sub-genre of werewolf horror movies, and for this reason the way it plays a little with the rules of the genre don’t offend the way in the same way as, say, the Twilight franchise effectively defanged the vampire genre. The story also remains grounded in reality despite its fantastic elements. Ginger and Brigitte are always believable, and are the type of characters you’d usually expect to find in some introspective drama. In fact, if anything, they’re like the supporting characters in some domestic soap – sulky, petulant teens who mumble their lines and aren’t all that likeable when we first get to meet them – and Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle do a good job of making them believable. The insecurities and vulnerability of the girls is always plain to see under the faux-cynical attitudes.
Ginger Snaps was made with very little money, and although director John Fawcett used the money wisely in terms of actors and locations, the special effects suffer a little as a result. The initial werewolf attack is extremely well-shot, with rapid editing used to conceal the deficiencies in the make-up of the monster, but these deficiencies become apparent during the climactic scenes in which convention demands that Fawcett shows us something. The only other real problem I had was with the depiction of adults in the movie. For much of the running time it seems that the adults will be peripheral figures, which is fine; after all, the world of a teenager is a closely guarded one from which most adults – and especially parents – are forbidden. Brigitte and Ginger’s parents are seen only infrequently; their mother (Mimi Rogers) is a constant source of irritation whose well-meaning attempts to connect with her girls are met with sullen resentment, while we never see the father even talk to them. But then, for some reason, a sub-plot in which the mother begins to suspect what is going on shows up out of nowhere for a while before going back to the same place from which it came. In fact, the movie leaves the mother entering a teenagers’ Halloween party from which she, for all we know, is yet to emerge. Overall, though, these issues aren’t enough to damage what is otherwise a unique and absorbing variation on a familiar theme.
(Reviewed 18th December 2013)