Ginger Snaps (2000)
Written by Karen Walto & John Fawcett
Directed by John Fawcett
I’d heard about this movie periodically since its release in 2000 but never sat down to watch it. I’m sure it played at the local arthouse theater when I was in college, but I was skeptical of most horror back then (now I’m just very picky). I have never been that big of a monster movie fan. I prefer more Lovecraftian/weird horror that spends its time in atmosphere and dread rather than fangs dripping with blood. When I was coming up with the list of movies to watch for my Flashback to 2000, I decided now was the time to finally view Ginger Snaps and see why it has garnered a cult following over the years.
Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Katherine Isabelle & Emily Perkins) are teenage sisters obsessed with death and the macabre. When they were little, they formed a suicide pact, but most of what they do is adolescent angst and dissatisfaction with suburbia on display. One night, while attempting to kidnap a school bully’s dog, Ginger is attacked by a ravenous creature and left bloodied and scarred. Brigitte gets her home, and miraculously the wounds begin to heal. Over time it becomes clear Ginger was bitten by a werewolf and is transforming into one as the full moon gets closer. Brigitte gets help from Sam, a local drug dealer, who is knowledgeable in these things. It becomes clear that Ginger is giving in to her animalistic impulses, frustrated with being such a marginal person and that Brigitte will have to take drastic steps if there’s any chance of saving her sister.
Ginger Snaps is a genuinely funny and tragic movie. It’s fantastic how the writer and director manage to balance these things. From the film’s opening, it’s made clear that this isn’t going to be a grim horror picture. Brigitte and Ginger are like if Wednesday Addams had her love of death & her confident personality split into two separate young women. The level to which these girls clamor for all things macabre is quite funny. They are definitely not shown to be too over the top, taking whispering jabs at classmates and the minute they are called out becoming nervous and awkward. Of course, that changes for Ginger after she’s bitten, and one particular school bully ends up paying for her actions.
Becoming a werewolf ends up being a very obvious metaphor for female puberty. Ginger begins growing hair in strange places, her hormones are of control, and her body cramps as the bones and muscles are reshaped within. Brigette uses the complimentary calendar inside a pack of menstrual pads to track how many days until Ginger will be fully transformed. While a classic horror film like Carrie tries to (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) tie a first period to the horror genre, Ginger Snaps does a much better job finding ways to play those two concepts off of each other. Lycanthropy is quickly turned into a metaphor for STDs as Ginger finds a sexual encounter with a horny schoolboy leaves him in the same process she’s going through.
Each of our lead actresses does a great job understanding the line between farce and real horror. Emily Perkins moves with nervous, terrified energy. The world is a scary place to her, and growing into adulthood is the most frightening aspect. Simultaneously, she is devoted to Ginger to a fault and works to cover up her sister’s violent acts believing that things can “go back to normal” eventually. Katherine Isabelle has a tricky task to transform from a cynical “gothy” girl into a character that has to be both incredibly sexually attractive and terrifying. Isabelle puts everything into her performance and does it with the same seriousness as Perkins.
Everything about Ginger Snaps feels like a more honest look at teenage girls mixed with the supernatural than other popular media, Twilight being the first that comes to mind. There’s very little werewolf content in the movie, save for the first encounter and the film’s finale. Instead, the story focuses on these two teenage girls trying to navigate their way through a seemingly impossible situation. We watch their bond change and eventually crumble when it becomes clear they aren’t seeking the same thing. Ginger becomes possessive of Brigitte while the younger girl realizes that she can’t live her life in the shadow of her sibling. The film ends at the perfect moment, not forcing us to sit through an epilogue that spells things out but instead just in the moment of a dark tragedy. We, like Brigitte, are left to wonder what happens next.