Ginger Snaps

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 09/04/05 01:13:03

"Easily one of the best horror films of the last ten years."
5 stars (Awesome)

"Ginger Snaps," co-written by John Fawcett and Karen Walton (and directed by Fawcett), proves to be a surprisingly inventive, always entertaining mix of apparently disparate sub-genres, the werewolf and suburban teen angst sub-genres (think of it as "Heathers" mixed with "An American Werewolf in London" and you’ll get a reasonably good idea as to what to expect from "Ginger Snaps") succeeds on almost every level: character, plot, and yes, blood and gore (for those viewers with a voyeuristic predisposition of having visceral jolts accompanied by buckets of fake blood and full-on makeup effects depicting the aftereffects of a werewolf attack). "Ginger Snaps" has only two noticeable flaws, a predictable stalk-and-chase third-act that fails to match the virtuosity of the first two acts and sub-par, risible werewolf effects sadly attributable to a low budget.

Ginger Snaps opens with an inventive credits sequence, a montage of photographs the girls have taken of themselves in faked death poses (most of them violent and bloody), that draws us into the world of two death obsessed (read: goth), marginalized teenage sisters, Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle, whose other horror/genre credits include a pivotal role as a nubile, sexually active teen in Freddy vs. Jason, a forgettable TV-remake of Carrie, and the better receivedInsomnia remake). The girls live in an insular, tense, neurotic relationship, and for the more socially awkward of the two, Brigitte, a fear of being abandoned by her more attractive, extroverted sister. In several brief but telling scenes, the audience is introduced to the girls' oppressive world, both at home, where her creepily indifferent parents are in deep denial both about the problems in their marriage and in their daughters’ incomplete social adjustment with their peer groups, and no surprise, at school, where the sisters are marked as put-upon outcasts, targets for the casual contempt and mistreatment by the popular girls.

All of the preceding is background or context (or, if you prefer, “table setting”) for the first major plot turn: with dogs being killed and mutilated in their neighborhood, the girls venture into the woods, Red Riding Hood-style, and encounter a werewolf, who bites Ginger. The bite and the inevitable transformation into a werewolf are paralleled with Ginger’s first, belated menstruation cycle, which, unsurprisingly, the sisters refer to as the “curse” (the sisters learning the true meaning of the word only later in the film). From there, Ginger Snaps begins to ratchet up the tension, as Ginger’s transformation changes her at first in small, if obvious ways (e.g., white streaks in her hair, sexual aggressiveness) and Brigitte, desperate to save her sister from the werewolf curse, attempts to find a way to undo or slow the transformation, with the next full moon only days away.

Besides the clever, literate storyline and sharp, mordant dialogue, there’s much more to recommend Ginger Snaps to genre and non-genre fans alike. Mimi Rogers delivers a surprisingly solid performance as the (mostly) clueless suburban mother who turns fiercely protective as the consequences of Ginger’s transformation begin to intrude in her tidy, orderly life. The black humor in Ginger Snaps stretches from the dialogue and plot turns to the visual representations of the girls’ fears and anxieties related to the side-effects of the “curse.” For example, in one early, post-bite scene, Brigitte and Ginger race into the local pharmacy, only to encounter a daunting wall of tampons. In another scene, the school nurse's deadpan description of the painfully sounding physical changes that occur with menstruation will make viewers uncomfortable, even as they laugh. Ginger’s physical changes are also treated with a mix of horror and black comedy (e.g., the emergence of a prehensile tail, Ginger’s hairy legs, apparently immune to a regular razor). Other memorable scenes deftly mix revulsion and laughter

On the negative side, the performances in the early scenes come off as awkward with the actors appearing uncomfortable as they deliver the faux-Heathers dialogue. Fawcett also mishandles the initial encounter with the werewolf in the woods. The encounter is poorly staged with the girls escaping multiple times with relative ease. In addition, the werewolf makeup effects are, to be blunt, laughable, even if they’re preferably to the other alternative, using CGI for the transformation scenes and the werewolf itself. Fawcett seems more than aware of this problem, often choosing to hide the werewolf in low light or behind large objects, revealing the full werewolf only when absolutely necessary, as in the climax. As a side note, the transformation scene in John Landis’ American Werewolf in London, with Rick Baker handling the pre-digital makeup effects, remains the standard for horror films (with Rob Bottin’s contemporaneous work for Joe Dante’s The Howling a close second.

Overall, "Ginger Snap's" positives more than make up for its minor flaws, and, over time, the words “cult” and “classic” mentioned will be likely mention in the same sentence with the film’s title. Viewers who find "Ginger Snaps" to their liking can look forward to two more entries in the series, "Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed," an ambitious, if inferior sequel and "Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning," a prequel to the other two films, set in the 19th century in the Canadian wilderness, with Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabelle back playing sisters named Brigitte and Ginger, respectively.

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