Ginger Snaps: Lion’s Gate Films
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Rating: USA: Unrated
When I first started hearing the buzz about John Fawcett’s werewolf film Ginger Snaps, I was guardedly optimistic. The film, which was only shown theatrically at some film festivals here in the States, sounded promising—but, Mike Mendez’s The Convent (another much discussed horror film that still remains unreleased here in America as well) also sounded promising…and the end result there was a film that left me very disappointed. So, when my copy of the film arrived recently (courtesy of my good buddy and fellow Epinionator Stargull), I popped it in and hoped for the best but anticipated the worst.
My trepidation was largely unnecessary, though, because Ginger Snaps is an engaging, entertaining horror film that works…for the most part.
Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) are teenaged sisters living in what appears to be suburban America. They’re social misfits--witnessed by the fact that they use a series of staged suicide photos for a class project—and outcasts in the social hierarchy of high school. That’s okay, though, because they’ve got each other—and as long as they’ve got each other, things will be all right (or at least endurable—Brigitte and Ginger are nothing if not world-weary and cynical).
Things change though, when a werewolf attacks Ginger one night, right after she begins her very first period. Ginger survives the assault, but winds up becoming a lycanthrope herself. Brigitte works diligently to cure her sister of the curse and cover up her terrible acts…but does Ginger really want to be saved?
Mixing together a heady mélange of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scream, and The Lost Boys, Ginger Snaps manages to be much more impressive than most people would imagine primarily because it breathes new life into one of horror’s oldest archetypes—the werewolf.
Most of this is attributable to the performances of Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabelle. These two young women do a superb job bringing the disaffected and alienated teenagers to life. I haven’t seen Ghost World yet, but from what I’ve heard about it, these characters seem like they’d be right at home in that film’s universe. Emily Perkins is particularly good, primarily because she’s the character who has to undergo the more realistic change during the course of the narrative (while Ginger goes from girl to werewolf, it’s not quite as realistic a change as Brigitte’s transition from sister confidant to potential savior). Perkins does an especially good job playing what would have been the ‘Corey Haim’ role in Lost Boys--the younger child who’s about to lose an older sibling to a supernatural transformation…unless the younger child can stop it.
That’s but one of the thematic issues that the film tackles, though. Other issues, such as burgeoning sexuality occurring at different periods between closely aged siblings, social stratification, the awkward transition from childhood to womanhood, and dysfunctional family life also figure prominently into the narrative. While none of these themes are presented or handled in an especially profound way, they are examined with more than the glib and perfunctory observations of most of the films in the postmodernist horror film canon.
Speaking of the postmodernist horror film, it’s nice to see a movie that tries to be different. While most of Hollywood’s horror output since the mid 1990s has consisted of lousy imitations of Wes Craven’s Scream, this movie doesn’t revel in its hipness. While there’s a certain air of ‘self-awareness’ in the film, it isn’t crammed down our throat by unlikable characters as it is in most of the other films of recent memory. No one espouses ‘the rules’ of lycanthropy (although Brigitte does watch one movie) nor does anyone make comments along the lines of ‘this is just like something out of a horror movie’. Bravo on that count. If I never have to watch another postmodernist slasher film, it will be too soon.
Director John Fawcett does a serviceable job behind the camera. Fawcett makes the wise decision to keep his shapeshifter shrouded in darkness for much of the film. This works nicely to heighten the suspense and anticipation for when it does finally show up at the climax. Instead of revealing his beast, we’re treated to little peaks at Ginger’s transformation—the ever-present tail that she must conceal, coarse new hair, etc.
The rest of the direction is solid, if not all that exciting. There’s a reliance on a lot of quick cutting that can make the action scenes difficult to follow, but it’s hard to blame Fawcett for emulating what everyone else in Hollywood is doing.
If the film has one thing that holds it back from greatness, it’s the ending. The film’s climax drags on interminably before arriving at a conclusion that probably sounded profound and touching to the people involved with the production, but ultimately plays out as very predictable. It’s a shame to see a film that had worked so hard to be fresh and inventive for the first two and a half acts just drop everything and go for the safe, traditional ending. I suppose some of the younger crowd who’s grown up on recent slasher cinema might find it profound, but those of us who’ve been watching genre films for a while won’t be too surprised by the final sequence.
There are other small problems littered throughout the film, as well, but they’re really relatively inconsequential—and not enough to change my positive opinion of Ginger Snaps as a whole.
One other thing that was nice to see was that the film relied on latex and puppets for its monster and FX work, not that hokey CGI garbage that’s marred more recent horror films than I care to remember. There’s a fair amount of gore in this film, and it’s presented the old fashioned way—the way it should be. The werewolf itself often looks like a puppet, but frankly, I’ll take a puppet over a computer-generated monster on any day of the week.
While it’s not a perfect film, or even the best werewolf film around (tough to beat out movies like An American Werewolf in London), Ginger Snaps breathes new life into one of horror’s most under appreciated archetypes—the werewolf. It also does a nice job of conveying teenaged angst and cynicism while giving the audience a well-executed horror flick in the process. If you’re looking for a film with the aesthetics of the ‘90s slasher film, but without the glib condescension of filmmakers and screenwriters who think they’re smarter than the material, then Ginger Snaps is well worth a look. Hopefully this film will finally find an audience.
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