It doesn’t seem right somehow that film festivals will program virtually every kind of movie known to man…except that old Drive-In staple, the horror movie. Two hours of an out of focus dripping water faucet set to a discordant freeform jazz soundtrack will get in as an “experimental” film, but heaven help any flick that dares to put a monster up on the screen. “Ginger Snaps,” director John Fawcett’s refreshingly in-your-face take on the werewolf legend, is thankfully a good enough film to overcome that instinctive ambivalence festivals feel towards horror movies.
Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) are a pair of Goth-leaning misfit sisters trapped in the Canadian suburban hell of Bailey Downs. Planning a simultaneous suicide as an expression of their inner rage, the Fitzgerald sisters are the type of social misfits for whom a class photo project is an excuse t!
o stage and shoot a series of gruesome death scene photographs.
About the only thing spicing up life around the town is the mysterious series of animal mutilations occurring at random intervals. The sisters inadvertently discover the culprit when, on a clandestine mission to kidnap a tormenting classmate’s dog as a retaliatory prank, something viciously attacks Ginger. In the ensuing chase, a hideous creature is struck and killed by a van driven by local drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemke). In an odd, nicely ironic touch, the day of the attack coincides with Ginger’s first period. (This, incidentally, leads to the best dialogue line of 2001: “There’s no such thing as ‘just’ cramps.”)
Nasty as the female “curse” is, or so I’ve been told, the havoc it plays on a woman’s body pales in comparison to the changes the attack wreaks on Ginger: Body hair growing in strange places, a heightened sex drive, the sprouting of a tail…and let’s not forget her sudden taste for live human flesh.
It quickly dawns on both Brigitte and Sam that the creature which attacked Ginger might be a lycanthrope; more commonly known as a werewolf. Using Sam’s access to greenhouse plants and some rudimentary biology skills, they race against the clock to find a botanical anti viral cure, hoping to counter the lycanthropic virus coursing through Ginger’s body before the ever-more bloodthirsty she-wolf acts on her bloodlust.
For a mere “monster movie,” “Ginger Snaps” displays a surprising degree of intelligence and range. Just the theory that Ginger’s literal transformation into a werewolf metaphorically mirrors her menstrual transition into womanhood alone could serve as the subject of a college dissertation.
As authentic as real life friends Isabelle and Perkins’ portrayals of today’s kids are, their natural chemistry fairly leaping off the screen, some of the other elements here seem fairly cartoonish, (and probably deliberately so). The monster itself never quite gets past its latex construct appearance. Similarly, all the adults, and particularly the girls’ mom (Mimi Rogers), are depicted as little more than clueless buffoons in much the same way that all the adults in the “Peanuts” cartoons merely mumble.
Even so, “Ginger Snaps” is a black comedy that nonetheless manages to tap into the sense of alienation and unfocused rage so prevalent in today’s kids. Fawcett’s success at weaving gallows humor into the first two thirds of the film only makes its transformation into an exciting and genuinely scary monster under the bed horror film by movie’s end all the more effective.
Originally reviewed at the 2001 SXSW Film Festival in March.