VOD film review: Ginger Snaps (2000)
Anton Bitel | On 20, Jan 2017
Director: John Fawcett
Cast: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers, Jesse Moss
Every other weekend, our resident horror obsessive Anton Bitel delves into Shudder’s selection of horrors to handpick a Friday night fright.
Meet the Fitzgerald sisters. 15-year-old Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and 16-year-old Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), both late developers, are the only goths in suburban Bailey Downs (“a safe and caring community”), and inseparable partners in crimes of teen rebellion. They also freely indulge in their shared morbid fantasies.
When they are not mounting and photographing elaborately realistic tableaux of their own violent deaths for a school project called ‘Life in Bailey Downs’, they are inventing, for their own mutual amusement, unflattering biographies of their fellow school pupils, or planning pranks together to fake the mutilation and death of the dog owned by their bête noire, Trina (Danielle Hampton). Meanwhile, someone or something is genuinely goring the local pets, and when, one night, it bites Ginger, bringing on all kinds of radical physical changes, the possibility remains that once more the conspiratorial sisters are just crying wolf.
Co-written with Karen Walton and firmly focused on women’s issues, John Fawcett’s whipsmart Canadian indie Ginger Snaps regenders the werewolf myth as a hilariously icky exploration of the monstrous feminine. At its heart lies a metaphor whose tenor and vehicle become utterly confused, in much the way that the girls’ fictions leak into reality. On the one hand, Ginger is a young woman getting her first period, experimenting sexually, acting out and pushing boundaries – while leaving her younger sister behind. On the other, she is transforming into a ravenous creature that cannot control its destructive urges. It helps that both menstrual cramps and lycanthropy are a monthly ‘curse’, each leaving a trail of blood in their wake.
While the film may feature plenty of practical creature effects, it is even more transgressive in its frank discussion (and normalisation) of women’s biology, and in its marginalisation of male characters into more typically female rôles. “Stay in your own world, Henry,” the sisters’ mother Peggy (Mimi Rogers) tells their father (John Bourgeois). “This one just confuses you.” In a film where most of the adults, even the no-nonsense school nurse (Lindsay Leese), are sent up for their clueless disconnection from their young wards, Peggy’s desperate attempts to be ‘one of the girls’ with her daughters lead to some hilariously observed skewerings of her maternal character. Still, even if the first time we encounter Peggy in the film, Ginger comments snidely to Brigitte, “God, I hate our gene pool”, by the end, their mother’s increasingly unhinged conduct will reveal that neither girl has really fallen as far from the tree as they would like to think.
Ginger Snaps works brilliantly as a satire of smalltown values, as a monstrous coming-of-age story, as a creature feature, and most of all as a skew-whiff celebration of errant sisterhood and womanhood. Its only fault is that the final sequence of confrontation in the Fitzgerald house is drawn out far too long, and does not know quite how to end – although its issues would be further explored in Brett Sullivan’s sequel Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004) and Grant Harvey’s prequel Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004).