Dir. John Fawcett
When film critic and writer Laura Mulvey posited that (in horror cinema) ‘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 Ginger Snaps. Written by Karen Walton, Ginger Snaps tells of a young woman who is attacked by a werewolf on the night she begins to menstruate and begins to transform into a monster. 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 The Company of Wolves (1984), a lyrical adaptation of several short stories by Angela Carter, directed by Neil Jordon - and co-written by Carter and Jordan - which utilised a complex narrative structure of dreams within dreams and stories within stories within dreams to convey the anxieties of a young woman's journey to adulthood - it is rarely presented from a female perspective. The Company of Wolves was of course inspired by Red Riding Hood, a cautionary folk tale warning young women of the dangers of straying from the conventions of conservative society. In Ginger Snaps, Red Riding Hood IS the wolf. Karen Walton's masterful screenplay, by turns scathing and moving, 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, Walton has penned a cutting commentary on the very real horrors and anxieties of growing up as a young woman. 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 by a large beast in a moonlit playground (corruption of innocence?). 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 adulthood. 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, empowerment and the attention she now wields from her 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 deeper and things get very nasty indeed when a class bully sets her jealous sights on Ginger...
In many horror films, as in conservative, patriarchal society generally, women are pigeon-holed and cast as various 'types', by men and indeed, by 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 class mates are portrayed as petty and insecure and are constantly harassed by men, their own bodies, and each other. Echoes of potent themes addressed by Tori Amos in several of her earlier records, particularly Under the Pink (1994). As well as coming to terms with her burgeoning sexuality, and all the isolation, humiliation and loneliness adolescence 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 they've made their basement into their bedroom and in their class photography project which unspools beneath the opening credits. The 'home movie' they make for a class project 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 and a society that would reject them for being themselves.
|‘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, relatable and strong performances as the troubled siblings whose relationship is changing and morphing as fast as Ginger's own body and identity. Walton's script gives them so much meaty material to sink their teeth into, and they do so with gusto. 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 ultimately 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, their relationship 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 allegory and as a moody werewolf tale with way more bite than most.