Dir. Brett Sullivan
Horror sequels can usually be a bone of contention with most audiences and critics. Often times they reek of cashing in on the success of their predecessor and commonly they simply rehash the original plot with an emphasis on upping the ante and the gore factor. It is a rare thing to find a horror sequel that not only matches the original film in terms of quality and originality, but that also expands and further explores the original story with credibility.
Ginger Snaps ended with Brigitte (Emily Perkins) putting her werewolf sister Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) out of her misery, but not before she was also ‘infected’ with her lycanthropy. Brigitte had discovered a ‘cure’ and when we last saw her she held salvation in her hand: a syringe of Monkshood (Wolfsbane). For all we knew she could have injected herself with it and went on her not-so-merry way. The film had a fairly closed ending that resolved its story nicely, though the fate of Brigitte of course had room for further - and in this writer’s humble opinion, welcome - exploration. Whether or not it merited a sequel is debatable. Luckily, Unleashed emerges as a fiercely individual beast, fearlessly breaking new ground and exploring the mythology created in the first film. It begins with the revelation that Brigitte has been living a nomadic and reclusive life ever since she killed her sister. She has also been desperately trying to keep her own inner wolf suppressed by injecting herself with Monkshood. Allusions to drug addiction and self-harm are rife throughout the film; Brigitte cuts herself to see how quickly her wounds heal and bases her self-medication on this information. We come to understand that unfortunately Monkshood is not a cure; it simply slows down, and prolongs, the unavoidable process of lycanthropy.
After a narrow escape from a lustful alpha-beastie, Brigitte collapses and awakens inside a drug rehab clinic, her stash of Monkshood confiscated and her burgeoning lycanthropy threatening to burst to the surface of her already weary and fragile body. Confining the story to this location really gives the film a sense of desperation and claustrophobia as the stakes are consistently stacked against our luckless heroine. Throughout Ginger Snaps, the titular character may have been the one undergoing a monstrous transformation, but Brigitte was also experiencing a transformation of her own. Hers may have been the least horrific, but it was no less traumatic as she eventually found it within herself to step out of her sister's shadow and in a bid for independence - and survival. We rooted for both sisters, but it was Brigitte whose plight we could perhaps empathise with the most and Unleashed really gives Emily Perkins the opportunity to explore the character further and unleash some seriously good acting chops. Here Brigitte is more desperate, cynical and worldly wise; but her determination to stay alive and maintain her own identity is as resilient as ever.
While the screenplay by Megan Martin is nowhere near as sly in its double-edged wit as Karen Walton’s, it at least has the guts to branch out and explore other concepts within the story. Whereas Ginger Snaps served as a subversive metaphor for burgeoning womanhood, Unleashed takes pot shots at conventional psychiatry and seems to suggest that post-puberty adulthood is subsequently where the real darkness and desperation lies. One memorable scene deftly blurs the lines between dream and reality and adds a heady helping of sexual anxiety and Sapphic undertones as Brigitte is made to join an encounter group with her fellow patients. As they lay on their backs they begin to masturbate and as things become more intense, Brigitte’s sedated inner lycanthrope makes an alarming appearance as she begins to transform on the brink of climax. This is perhaps where Unleashed ventures closest to ideas of the ‘monstrous feminine’ and transgressive sexuality explored in the original film. As much as Unleashed continues with its predecessor’s body-horror narrative, it is as much a psychological horror story in its depiction of desperate characters existing on the fringes of mainstream society.
Unfortunately few of the intriguing characters it adds to the mix aren’t really explored, with the exception of Ghost (Tatiana Maslany), a strange orphan girl with a penchant for comic books and arson, and the dashing but dangerous orderly Tyler (Eric Johnson), who strikes a deal with Brigitte to supply her with a stash of Monkshood; this is fine though, as Brigitte is as ostracised in the clinic as she was outside of it and is wary of getting close to anyone. There are also infrequent appearances by Ginger which remind us of the bond the sisters shared, but her role here is peripheral as she coaxes Brigitte to give in to her increasingly primal urges from beyond the grave (or as a figment of Brigitte’s increasingly distraught psyche).
Unleashed has a much grittier tone due to the location, though the bleak mood is just as strong – if not stronger. Gone is the cosy orange suburban glow that bathed proceedings in the original, in its place is an icy coldness and slow-burning hopelessness. While there are several gory and highly taut set pieces, they’re not just there for the sake of gratuity; they are part of the story and serve to highlight the ever nightmarish situation Brigitte finds herself in. The constant, mainly unseen threat of the male werewolf stalking her opens up but never fully explores something that was suggested in the original – that others have found themselves in the Fitzgerald sister’s situation and have also succumbed to the monstrously feral ways of lycanthropy. The threat of this particular beast is always in the background of the story, which increases the foreboding atmosphere and maintains tension. We discover it has been dogging Brigitte for some time, so even if she does manage to escape the clinic – the ‘haven’ of which has already been breeched by the monster – she will still have to face it when she gets out...