Teenage girls battling werewolves. Nope, it’s not Twilight: it’s another horror gem like The Descent and Carriers.
While I was working at a video store, Ginger Snaps was just another straight to DVD horror film: attractive girl, catchy title, some ominous background music, BOOM, you have a cover just like all the other straight to DVD features (right next to Lord of the G-Strings and Santa’s Slay). But as I’ve been working on my dissertation detailing “unsafe” horrors, Ginger Snaps came up enough times to merit a screening. Results? The best werewolf film since Landis’ An American Werewolf in London.
The film follows two sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), who are goth to the core and hate their middle class suburban lifestyle. They take photos of elaborately decorated fake suicides, repeating their mantra to each other, “Out by sixteen or dead on the scene, but together forever. United against life as we know it.”
So when Ginger is bitten by a lycanthrope, starts sprouting hair and becomes consumed by a (blood) lust for boys, suddenly, as someone once put it, “This shit just got real.”
One of the film’s greatest accomplishment is its ability to deal with a variety of themes and subtexts (female identity, sibling rivalry, puberty) without the heavy-handed punch of other social commentary films. With the werewolf-as-menstruation metaphor, Ginger finds herself physically attracted to some of the douche-baggiest males in the film. Sexual attraction and violence are two sides of the same coin when Ginger’s lust becomes a drive to rip flesh.
Though most of the male student body are cliché sexual clowns, the film doesn’t fall into femi-Nazi man-hating territory (see Teeth for that*). Neighborhood drug dealer, Sam, is helping Brigitte find a cure for Ginger. Even though Ginger is sexing up the village idiot, she becomes suspicious of Sam’s intentions toward Brigitte. When Ginger then tries to mount Sam (and then rip him apart in her lust/kill frenzy), we get a glimpse of the once considered extinct species of male in popular culture: The dude who says “No” to sex. The film is (surprisingly) uninterested in one dimensional portrayals.
I’ve done my fair share of dissecting the film’s specific themes, but the overall qualities of the film solidify it as a damn good picture: the dialogue between the girls lacks the contrived kid lingo of Juno and feels realistic; director John Fawcett eschewed CGI for practical effects and editing tricks to pack the visual punch; the cinematography visually grounds us to a believable reality (not one that’s been amped up with horror atmosphere); it deftly maneuvers between hilarious and creepy; and the big one, you have no idea what to expect. Watch enough mainstream American films and you’ll see they hit the same notes at the same time because that’s what screenwriters have been taught in Hollywood–down to the damn page number that X has to occur. So this little tale from Canada surprises and entertains in a way that Hollywood could only dream of thanks to quality writing.
Finally, this film is proof that films with female lead roles are NOT alienating. Despite all of the themes concerning “what it’s like to be a girl,” as a male, I felt engaged with the characters and their struggles. This highlights an important rule in stories: the identity of the character (gay, straight, male, female, white, black, etc.) doesn’t matter as long as you create a believable, likable person. Once you’ve established that foundation, they’re struggles become your struggles. When Ginger says, “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door,” you feel that frustration, regardless of your background.
This is a refreshing, funny, and at times, scary movie. Check it out.
Now that I’ve talked up how the awesomeness of Ginger Snaps, I’m going to eviscerate the sequel with heavy critique, right? Wrong. In fact, you might have more reason to watch the second than the first.
*Save her passive father, literally every male on screen is up to shady sexual shenanigans against the female protagonist, who then castrates these males with her vagina teeth. I am not kidding.
Catch part 2 here.