Ginger Snaps: 1, 2 & 3

Ginger Snaps

The wave of irony that had swept through American pop-culture in the late 90s, catching vampires in Buffy and serial killers in Scream, took a little longer to hit werewolf films. Maybe that’s because werewolf films are rarer overall or because it’s easy to mistake a few of the later Howling’s as ironic. Whatever the reason, when director John Fawcett and screenwriter Karen Walton took the ironic/meta-lens to the full moon monsters – viewing them through the raging hormones of two adolescent sisters – they nailed it. The sequels… are more complicated.

Ginger SnapsGinger Snaps tells the story of two anti-social sisters – sexy, angry red-headed Ginger and her more anxious, awkward little sibling Brigitte – as they try to navigate the hell that is high school in their tiny hometown, Bailey Downs. Things get worse when Ginger hits her first period (a subject you’ll have to get comfortable with in this film), which attracts “The Beast of Bailey” to chow down on her. In the resulting days, Ginger becomes stronger, more confident, and way more sexual; the trade-off is she also starts getting hairier, craves live flesh, and grows a tail. (To her, the third of those is by far the worst.) Brigitte flips into helpful investigator mode, but Ginger is far more interesting in fucking and killing things.

The whole idea could add up to a film that’s hyper-violent, pervy, and heavy on high school melodrama. Instead, Ginger Snaps keeps all these ideas in check. There’s some delicious gore, to be sure, and it’s nigh impossible not to be drawn in by Ginger’s increasing sexuality. But the film takes its cues more from Buffy – ample doses of humor and insights into teen life – than late night Skinemax. Ginger and Brigitte, played by Katherine Isabelle (Bones, Freddy Vs. Jason) and Emily Perkins (IT), are a complex pair, and their cutting humor about life before graduation sells the film. Possibly the biggest criticism of the film tends to be that its Heather -cum-Jawbreakers humor fades fast in the last half hour, as the film turns into a more straightforward horror show. But it’s that turn that helps end the film with gravitas and sell the film’s message: not even the terror of werewolf-dom can tear apart sisterly bonds.

Ginger Snaps was a shocking runaway success, so we’re blessed with two somewhat random follow-ups. First, a sequel that finds Brigitte locked up in a rehab clinic, dealing with her own werewolf issues. Next, a prequel with Isabelle and Perkins returning to pioneer times as Ginger and Brigitte precursors (who just happened to also be named Ginger and Brigitte). Neither reaches the heights of the original, but as far as quick cash-ins to a successful initial film, they’re surprisingly solid.

Ginger SnapsGinger Snaps: Unleashed picks up only weeks after Ginger Snaps ends. Brigitte is running from her blood-soaked past, worried that a new wolf is tracing her every footstep, when she gets picked up and thrown into an involuntary rehab center for young girls. The set-up works to a degree: whereas the original Ginger Snaps used the werewolf curse as a metaphor for discussing “the curse” of young womanhood, Unleashed uses the slow transformation into the wolf as a way of discussing drug addiction. Unfortunately, the metaphor doesn’t have the same universality as the original, and it doesn’t connect as clearly. The new setting does still offer the opportunity for Unleashed to keep up some of the same themes of girl empowerment, though, and there’s a few new faces – namely Ghost, a preciously violence-obsessed young girl – that instill the film with some of the same unique personality that sold the original. A few strong scenes – the mutilation of a potential new love interest, a grotesque final transformation, and a memorable discuss of “relaxation techniques” – make the film worth the time of any horror fan, but don’t expect the same level of humor, horror, and creativity as the first time around.

Finally, a question – have you ever loved a film so much you wished you could watch it anew, the same story through new eyes? That’s what Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning banks on. Shot back-to-back with Unleashed, The Beginning re-tells the original story almost point for point: Ginger and Brigitte struggle through a harsh, sexist environment, Ginger gets bit, Ginger gets violent and sexual, Brigitte searches for a way to solve it, and the whole ordeal builds to a climax with a high body count. The Beginning, however, transports these events to 19th-century Canada, as Ginger and Brigitte stumble upon and take shelter in an all-male Trader’s Fort. The film deserves props for working as a period piece on a small budget (3.5 million), and it’s interesting to see the sexism and sexual panic of the first film traced back to an earlier time period. The stark imagery, the actors’ performances, and the werewolf attacks are still great; however, you won’t be able to shake the feeling you’ve seen all this done before – quite a bit better. It’s solid, but it’s a film only for ardent fans of the series.

While the series declines in quality throughout the three films, you can be happy that at least it starts from a very high benchmark and never hits rock bottom. Each film, to a degree, is funny, gory, sexy, and smart. Katharine Isabelle is such a strong force in them that she initially looked to be a new genre sensation – even catching Christopher Nolan’s eye for an intense scene in Insomnia. But the Ginger Snaps films are about more than any one performance. They’re about exploring sexuality, sisterhood, and society in ways far more complex than most films are interested in – with heaping amounts of gore and laughs thrown in for good measure.

Ginger Snaps

Rating: 4.5/5 ★★★★½ 


Ginger Snaps: Unleashed:

Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★½☆ 


Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning:

Rating: 3/5 ★★★☆☆ 

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About Josh_C

Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).

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