Ginger Snaps

Dir. John Fawcett

When film critic and writer Laura Mulvey said that ‘Monstrosity is explicitly associated with menstruation and female sexuality... woman’s monstrous nature is inextricably bound up with her difference as man’s sexual other', (Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema) it's like she was specifically referring to John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps; a film about a young woman who is attacked by a werewolf on the night she begins to menstruate. Links between the menstrual cycle and lycanthropy cunningly swirl together to form a twisted tale of monstrous pubescence filtered through a chilling body-horror narrative. The result is a dark, savagely funny and haunting film that staggers blinking and bloodied into the unkind light of day as the most significant ‘menstrual horror’ since Carrie (1976).

In classic horror cinema, the figure of the werewolf is used to signify a collapse of order and the boundaries between animal and human. Lycanthropy has been used as a metaphor for the onset of puberty in a number of films before (I Was A Teenage Werewolf, 1957 and Teen Wolf, 1985), but aside from Neil Jordon's lyrical The Company of Wolves (1984) - which utilised a complex narrative structure of dreams within dreams and stories within stories within dreams to convey the anxieties of a young girl's burgeoning womanhood - it is rarely presented from a young woman's point of view. The Company of Wolves was of course inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, a cautionary morality tale warning young girls of the dangers of straying from the conventions of conservative society. In Ginger Snaps, Little Red Riding Hood IS the wolf. Karen Walton's screenplay slyly highlights the parallels between menstruation and lycanthropy, with Ginger's (Katherine Isabelle) transformation into a werewolf serving as a darkly humorous and eventually horrific metaphor for the on-set of menstruation and adulthood. Captive to the wax and wane of the moon, and with much talk of 'the curse', Ginger's body gradually transforms, unfamiliar hair sprouts and aggressive sexuality flows free in a frenzy of bloody mood-swings and uncontrollable primal impulses. In a way that is strikingly original and yet so obvious in hindsight, Walton has penned a cutting commentary on the very real horrors and anxieties of growing up female. She deftly highlights the alienation, humiliation and often violent disruption caused by the onset of puberty. Two curses for the price of one.

While moping about with her broody sister Bridgette (Emily Perkins) one night, Ginger is attacked and mauled by a large beastie in a moonlit playground (corruption of innocence, anyone?). Soon after she begins to change in strange ways. Her sister is convinced she is transforming into a werewolf, but Ginger insists it's just part of growing up and entering womanhood. With no one to turn to, Bridgette befriends the local intellectual slacker/pot dealer (Kris Lemche) and the two brainstorm ways in which they can help Ginger and stop her transformation before it's too late. Meanwhile Ginger is embracing her new found confidence, blossoming sexuality and the attention it enables her to command from her male peers. She becomes what psychoanalyst and film critic Julia Kristeva describes as an 'abjection' of female sexuality; 'something which does not respect borders, positions, rules… that which disturbs identity, system, order', (Powers of Horror). A few fumbled sexual encounters turn bloody, the distance between Bridgette and Ginger grows and things get very nasty indeed when the high school bitch sets her jealous sights on Ginger...

In most horror films, and arguably in conservative society as a whole, women are pigeon-holed and marked out as various 'types', by men and each other. Ginger Snaps acknowledges this when Ginger states that ‘a girl can only be a slut, a tease or the virgin next door’, while her female school mates are portrayed as petty and insecure and are constantly harassed by men, their own bodies, and each other. Tori Amos eat your heart out. As well as coming to terms with her burgeoning sexuality, and all the isolation, humiliation and loneliness that can bring, Ginger and her sister also struggle against conventional traditions imposed upon them by ‘normal’ society, especially their doting mother (a fantastic comic turn from Mimi Rogers). They appear to embrace the fear that manifests itself when they see themselves as 'different.' They actively go out of their way to set themselves apart from their dull, stiflingly conservative surroundings. This is perfectly highlighted in the way they dress, the morose conversations they have, the fact that they've made their basement their bedroom and in their class photography project which unspools beneath the opening credits. It depicts them in various staged death poses, as they live out their morbid fantasies of ending their lives when they feel like it. The ultimate 'fuck you' to their peers.

‘I get this ache. And I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces…’

Isabelle and Perkins deliver believable and strong performances as the troubled siblings whose relationship is disintegrating as fast as Ginger's body and personality. We feel nothing but sympathy for them, particularly as matters draw to a dark close and things become fraught and desperate. Their private little world has been torn apart forever and that alone ensures Ginger Snaps is a harrowing and haunting tale that lingers long after the credits roll. Its emotional resonance creates as much of a wallop as that of Carrie. As Ginger's transformation develops at an alarming rate, and as the realisation that she's essentially trapped in her own body as it morphs and changes into something unfamiliar settles in, the film races towards its grim denouement as Bridgette realises what she has to do to help, and stop Ginger. A highly suspenseful climax ensues as Bridgette comes face to face with her sister in full wolfen form... She's relegated to the shadows for the most part, just as the werewolf that attacked her at the beginning of the film was. Ginger Snaps is not about special effects, the drama is pushed along by the characters and the increasingly horrific situation they find themselves in. Throughout the film, both sisters undergo a transformation. Bridgette's may be the least horrific, but its no less traumatic as she finally finds it within herself to step out of her sister's shadow and stand on her own two feet. By the end, both sisters are killers and the concept of the female castrator/vagina dentata is strongly evoked.

Robin Wood said it best when he stated: ‘The release of sexuality in the horror film is always presented as perverted, monstrous and excessive; both the perversion and the excess being the logical outcome of repression.’

Ginger Snaps succeeds admirably as both an edgy metaphor and as a moody werewolf tale with more bite than most.


Dave Enkosky said…
I was blown away when I first saw this movie. It was such a clever take on the genre.
Emily said…
Ginger Snaps is one of the only werewolf movies I actively like. You nailed pretty much why: it's blatantly self-aware about its symbolism but still manages to create likable, interesting characters that both defy and inhabit the long-standing stereotypes. Good stuff!
James Gracey said…
It's without a doubt one of my favourite werewolf flicks. I should really check out the sequel and prequel, too. I have heard good things...
Jack Thursby said…
Absolutely love this movie. For me it's Mimi Rogers unhinged mother who makes it for me. The way she calmly says that she'll burn down her house and run away to protect her daughters is awesome.

Definitely check out the sequel - Emily Perkins gets more of a chance to shine in that. It goes in some very... interesting directions but unfortunately they didn't make a third film to wrap everything up.

The prequel I didn't enjoy so much, it's more or less a remake of the original film with the same cast but set in 1900s.
James Gracey said…
I also loved Mimi Rogers in this. I appreciated how her character was given more depth, and a slightly darker edge, when she revealed the lengths she'd go to protect her family. Great stuff. Emily Perkins is also one of my favourite things about the film, too - so glad to hear she is given room to shine in the sequel. Must try to check it out soon! :)
Will Errickson said…
Excellent review. GINGER SNAPS is ready-made for those of us who like to approach our horror movies through some intellectual film theory - and it was definitely the first movie that got me excited about horror in the new century.
Anonymous said…
Don't know how this one has manage to slip through our radar! We haven't even heard of it!
(hangs head in shame)
It certainly seems to have a lot of fans, will have to check it out

Liam and Pearl
James Gracey said…
I know what you mean, Will. I couldn't wait to see it when I first read about it. I just knew I'd love it. Still do.
And guess what just dropped through my letterbox this afternoon?? Ginger Snaps Unleashed!! review to follow...

Liam and Pearl I hope you get a chance to check out Ginger Snaps soon!

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