Ginger Snaps

Sometimes I miss a film when it comes out that I should have seen. I’m talking about the kind of movie that looks like it would be all the way up my alley, yet somehow it flies below my radar or I just fail to catch up with it at the time.  When this happens, I face people being surprised that this film missed me. I start to get exhortations about how I must see it.   The first few friends and colleagues telling me I should see it may prompt me to seek it out. But, the more people insist that I should watch it, the less I want to. I am, if nothing else, very contrarian.  Sometimes I just refuse.

That isn’t necessarily the right choice.

Ginger Snaps is one of those movies. What’s not to like about the premise? Weird sisters obsessed with death. Werewolves. Practical effects. Body horror. This film sounds like it has it all. Yet, I missed it.

I finally caught up with Ginger Snaps thanks to Shudder (if you like horror movies and don’t subscribe to Shudder, you need to change that right away).  Ginger Snaps stars Emily Perkins (Supernatural,  Juno), Katherine Isabelle (Hannibal, The Girl in the Photographs),  Kris Lemche (They’re Watching, Tales from the Darkside) and features Mimi Rogers (The X-Files, Ash vs Evil Dead).

When the film opens the suburb of Bailey Downs is being terrorized by an unseen creature that is slaughtering local dogs. Everyone knows that something terrible is happening, but no one is doing anything to stop it. Brigitte and Ginger Fitzgerald are teenage sisters who harbor a fascination with death. As kids they made a pact to die together. Now they spend their time faking gruesome death scenes and photographing them.  Both girls are behind in their development, neither having started menstruating despite being fifteen and seventeen years old.

One night while walking in the woods Ginger, who has just started her first period, is attacked by a large creature.  Ginger sustains wounds that should be fatal, yet she survives. The wounds spontaneously heal, then she begins to change. The changes are both physical (hair growing from her scars, increased strength,  a tail) and mental (increased aggression including sexual aggression, anger, a mordant humor). The metaphor is maybe a bit on the nose: lycanthropy standing in for puberty and sexual development. It works though.

Brigitte teams up with local stoner Sam, who knows a lot about werewolves. They try to formulate a plan to cure Ginger before things get too out of hand.  The first plan, piercing Ginger’s navel with a silver ring, is ineffective.

Ginger gets further and further out of control. She passes werewolfism on to a local boy via unprotected sex. She kills the local bully, as well as a dog (dogs do not fare well in this movie. If you have trouble seeing dogs injured or killed on film, this one may not be for you).  

Brigitte and Sam hit upon using monkshood, a plant that is related to wolfsbane, to cure Ginger.  It sounds like a good plan, especially after it accidentally cures another werewolf.  Sadly, the best laid plans of wolves and teens often go astray.

This movie works very well as scary werewolf action, buoyed by outstanding practical effects. For those interested in more, the underlying metaphor is striking.  The sexual development of young women is a topic that filmmakers either shy away from, or only interrogate via the male gaze. Here the script by Karen Walton takes a strongly feminist view. John Fawcett’s direction plays into that wonderfully.

Ginger Snaps is a marvelous film that I should have caught up with much, much sooner.