When I bought the first Ginger Snaps movie on DVD, I didn’t really know that much about it. I’d heard good things, and I knew it starred Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins, who were both actresses I really liked. What I wasn’t prepared for was what a cool, original take on the werewolf story the film would be. The film focuses on two sisters, Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald. The girls are outcasts with a seething contempt for the world around them, and a morbid fascination with death. The opening title montage, where the girls are making a film wherein they stage their own gruesome deaths for a class project, is one of my all-time favourites and deserves to be shared.
Their town has been plagued by savage animal attacks, and we soon discover that the culprit is a werewolf. When Ginger ends up getting bitten, it’s up to Brigette to attempt to find a cure for her increasingly savage older sister. It’s not often you get horror films with two really strong female leads, and both Emily and Katharine do a fantastic job. While it’s Ginger who falls victim to the werewolf, it’s Brigitte we feel for. Brigitte, who has always been in the shadow of her more confident older sister, and now has to attempt to save Ginger before it’s too late. Ginger, on the other hand, really doesn’t seen to give much of a fuck about what’s happening to her, and comes to downright revel in her new-found murderous tendencies.
One thing I love about this film is how they make lycanthropy a metaphor for adolescence and the process of becoming a woman. Really it’s so obvious that I’m amazed it hasn’t been done before. Has it been done before? I don’t know, bro. I don’t think it has. But the whole thing of the monthly cycle of menstruation, and the monthly transformation of the werewolf… it all fits. Ginger is bitten on the night she gets her first period, and many of the changes she goes through do seem like the transformations a lot of girls go through in their teens (heightened sexuality, mood swings, rebelliousness), that is, until she starts killing and eating people. It works in a way that’s both darkly funny and scary because, speaking as a woman who has gone through adolescence, it can be really scary. All these things are happening to your body and to your emotions, and you have no control over it. Ginger Snaps just takes it to the extreme level.
Another thing I love is the portrayal of the relationship between the two sisters. It’s quickly established that Ginger and Brigitte are extremely close, to the exclusion of everyone else. Neither of them have any other friends, neither of them are close to their parents – they are each other’s world. And so it’s painful to watch Ginger gradually reject Brigitte as she transforms. So it’s about growing up and growing apart. It’s not just about Ginger’s transformation, but also about Brigitte becoming an adult as well, learning to be independent and learning to fight. The final scene always breaks my heart, but at the same time I didn’t feel cheated by it. It was what needed to happen.
The sequel, Ginger Snaps: Unleashed, differs from so many sequels in that it doesn’t just repeat the formula of what made the first film a success. The focus is on Brigitte now, and Emily Perkins really gets to show what a talent she is.
If the first film was about growing up, this one is about the struggles involved with being an adult and being alone. Brigitte is becoming increasingly reliant on the herbal concoction she has to take in order to avoid sharing her sister’s fate, and she ends up in rehab. With no way of getting access to the monkshood which is the only thing stopping her from becoming a full-blown werewolf, she had to try to find a way of fighting her blood lust. It’s kind of like Girl, Interrupted but with werewolves, and it sets itself apart by being a witty, intelligent sequel which brings new elements to the story.
The third instalment, Ginger Snaps Back is actually a prequel. And I don’t even know if it’s that. It basically takes the Fitzgerald sisters and the werewolf story and puts them in colonial America. While not as original as the first sequel (Ginger gets bitten by the wolf, Brigitte fights to save her, etc.), it doesn’t bother me too much. Partly because I love a good period horror. Also there’s the added element of seeing just how hard life was back then anyway, especially for two women alone, on top of the obvious threat of the werewolf.
Also, there’s something so scary and claustrophobic about the whole thing, with the fenced in village the girls get access to, and everyone terrified of the monster prowling beyond the gates. Ginger is softer in this film as well, which I liked. For the first film I was never overly attached to her because she was always a little mean and cold even before she became a werewolf, but here you can see the genuine love she feels for her sister, and her fear for what she is becoming.
The werewolves in these films are scary. And I say this not just because of the special effects and the gore (and there is plenty of gore to be had), but because unlike the traditional were- mythology where the wolf only appears on the night of a full moon and then goes back to being a regular person, there really is a total transformation here. Anyone who is bitten slowly loses their humanity and becomes a monster. It’s like a disease. The scenes that creeped me out the most weren’t of the bloody attacks, but of the times where Ginger finds a claw growing out of her ankle, or when Brigitte realises her sister is getting a tail. There is no going back.
So if you haven’t seen these movies yet, check them out. The lead actresses are brilliant, and the script is well-written and witty. They also deliver some good scares and violence, and are refreshingly free from clichés. Definitely recommended.