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Ginger Snaps (2000)
Director: John Fawcett
review by Steven Hampton
The Howling meets Carrie, with more blood. Socially inept, desperately unhappy and late starting menstruation, the Fitzgerald sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), sulk their way through dreary schooldays and worry throughout lonely nights. They can't fit in, so they don't bother trying - preferring instead to stage an alarmingly proficient series of fake death scenes (their photo evidence of which makes up a compelling backdrop for the opening credits), as an appallingly ghoulish hobby to shock parents, teachers, and neighbours. And, as a predictable side effect, winning them fleeting classroom kudos for dark-side cool.
Then, while the girls are out plotting mischief one night, Ginger gets bitten by a werewolf, and has her first period. And, following the accidental death of a girl from their school, the sisters' close relationship is threatened by Ginger's animal sexuality, Brigitte's concern for her sibling's hormonal trauma (interpreted by the older girl as jealousy), and the frequent appearance of yet more blood. Before the next full moon, Brigitte realises she must find a cure for the ferocity growing in Ginger, or people will die. She gets help from a young gardener, who suggests a herbal remedy for the girls' lycanthrope disorder, but even clueless mum, Pamela (Mimi Rogers), senses that for Ginger, there's no going back.
Among the details of this clever reinterpretation of werewolf lore is a focus on the growing of a dog tail, prior to the main transformation scene of infected teen into ginger-wolf. This permits a narrative that dwells on genre themes of gender and bestiality, and the sort of burgeoning sexual perversity evident in Schrader's remake of Cat People - with signifiers of what critic Barbara Creed has called 'the monstrous feminine' - not to mention indirect references to venereal disease (as when Ginger's sexual partner is horrified to find blood in his urine), cancer and, of course, the HIV virus. Any excuse for the lurid spilling of blood, right?
Despite the blood that runs, drips, and splatters everywhere, Ginger Snaps (as it's title hints) is a black comedy flush with understanding of common teenage unease, misery, and stress. DIY body piercing for Ginger to get a navel ring, is a startling and exceedingly witty update of the usual silver bullet cure for werewolf bites, which demonstrates the high standard of invention here, for which director John Fawcett, and the young stars, deserve much praise. Although this is letdown during the climactic scenes, by its modest production budget, when clear views of a wholly unconvincing monster's attack introduce an unwelcome element of pure cartoon overextension to the action, Ginger Snaps is an excellent horror thriller with proof of a brave and lively intelligence at work beneath the visceral surface.
previously published in VideoVista #32
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