Director: John Fawcett
How many really good werewolf movies can you name? You'd probably be able to count them on one hand and have fingers left over. At one time, I could only think of two: The Wolf Man and An American Werewolf in London. However, the pair became a trio when I saw Ginger Snaps, a little-known Canadian movie that's managed to find life in America as a modern cult film. I'd heard about it through numerous favorable reviews I'd read online, but I'd never found the opportunity to see it. But the stars were in alignment while I was watching Cinemax during a late, sleepless night. I finally got a chance to see the film I'd been coveting, and all the good reviews in the world couldn't have prepared me for what I saw. What I watched one of the most wickedly entertaining horror movies I've ever seen. And dear readers, I've seen a lot of horror movies.
Mousy teenager Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) and her older sister Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) are a team. Obsessed with death and bound by a morbid childhood pact ("out by sixteen or dead in this scene, but together forever"), the pair of social misfits loathe their existence in the Canadian suburb of Bailey Downs. On the night of Ginger's first period, the duo wanders into the woods on the edge of town to pull a prank on an abusive classmate. Before they can arrive at their destination, Ginger is brutally mauled by a wild creature known as "The Beast of Bailey Downs."
Ginger survives as her horrible wounds miraculously heal, but something is different about her. She becomes irritable and denies that anything is wrong, but Brigitte sees something deep inside her sister has taken hold of her. The hair growing from Ginger's scars and the tail emerging from the base of her spine convinces Brigitte of only one thing: Ginger is becoming a werewolf. Driven by the insatiable bloodlust growing inside her, Ginger slowly transforms from a disdainful outsider to an aggressive, sex-crazed young woman on the prowl.
Afraid to tell anyone but desperate to save her sister from the lycanthropy overtaking her, Brigitte has no one to turn to but Sam (Kris Lemche), an amateur botanist and local drug dealer that accidentally ran over the Beast of Bailey Downs following Ginger's attack. They work together, searching for a way to save Ginger from the infection that threatens her sanity and strains the tightly forged bond between the two sisters.
Borrowing elements of the 1984 movie The Company of Wolves, Ginger Snaps serves notice that not only can werewolf movies be good, but that girls in horror movies can be much more than ditzy, big-breasted bimbos that serve only as fodder for a knife-weilding psychopath. The movie not only works as a horror movie, but it also works as a metaphor for a girl's entry into womanhood. It's got awkwardness, mood swings, physical changes, a need to be accepted, a hunger for sex. It's one of the very few "girl power" horror movies, of which there are a scant number. Now, I thought I'd have a hard time getting into the movie. I mean, why would I want to hear a graphic description of the menstrual cycle? Being a single male, I don't necessarily have to worry about that sort of thing, nor am I absolutely dying to know about it. I like to block that sort of thing out of my head whenever I can. But fortunately, the movie becomes much more than a feminist horror movie. It brings up many themes that I wouldn't expect a horror movie to tackle, like family loyalty, love, and loss. However, the movie is not without its imperfections. Having the lycanthropy virus be sexually transmitted gives us a subplot involving a character played by Jesse Moss. While it's not a bad idea in theory, it wasn't fleshed out enough to justify actually being there. It's like they just added it to make the movie longer.
Karen Walton's screenplay gives the characters a lot of depth, and the cast makes it seem real, though a little on the overstated side. Mimi Rogers is great as Ginger and Brigitte's clueless-yet-loving mother, and both Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabelle are absolutely wonderful as the pseudo-Goth sisters. Perkins and Isabelle are the movie's heart and soul, and without them, the movie wouldn't have the same emotional "oomph." Also superb are the outstanding makeup effects. When Ginger starts to transform, the facial makeup and fangs makes her look both sexy and scary, while the Gingerwolf in its full glory is quite a sight to behold. The understated, melancholy score by Michael Shields is excellent as well, especially once Ginger starts to lose her mind near the end of the movie. The quiet, subdued string instruments in the score work to make the movie much more sad and depressing.
Ginger Snaps is absolutely NOT a happy movie at all. If you're used to your horror movies having lots of comic relief or happy endings, you're not gonna get it with Ginger Snaps. The atmosphere is gloomy, most of the main characters aren't anybody you'd wanna hang out with, and the ending isn't very happy at all. If you enjoy commercial movies that substitute blood for brains, you might be let down. But after seeing it two or three times, it becomes obvious what the movie is: a very original and intelligent look at two teenage girls going through the hardest days of their lives... and one of them is a werewolf. If you're looking for a fun roller-coaster ride of a horror movie that wraps everything up with a cute little bow, you won't find it in Ginger Snaps. If you want something original with lots of brains, heart, and some scares and dark humor along the way, Ginger Snaps is for you.
Final Rating: ****½