Format: Internet video on laptop.
Some movie monsters come with very specific, unusual tropes. The monsters created by Dr. Frankenstein, for instance, tend to be sympathetic. Vampires tend to be romanticized. The strange trope that goes with werewolves is that the people who become werewolves are typically innocent and undeserving of their terrible fate. We get that from the very first film of the subgenre. What does the gypsy woman say to Larry Talbot? “Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” That’s a trope that going to be played for all it’s worth in Ginger Snaps.
We have two sisters who are about a year apart, but are in the same grade in school. These are Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins). The Fitzgerald girls are very much the social outcasts in their high school. They’re also both obsessed with death, and whenever possible will turn school projects toward the macabre. One evening with their parents out, the two decide to kidnap the dog belonging to Trina (Danielle Hampton), their high school rival, they are attacked by…something. As it happens, dogs around the town have been turning up mutilated. And, as it happens, Ginger has just entered menarche (look it up) despite being 16. This means that Ginger gets mauled by whatever it is (c’mon…it’s a werewolf). When the thing gives chase, it’s killed by Sam (Kris Lemche) who hits it with his truck.
Naturally, since Ginger has been attacked but not killed by a lycanthrope, she starts showing signs of lycanthropy. Her wounds heal almost immediately and she starts growing a tail. She also starts becoming sexually aggressive, something that is suddenly interesting to the boys in her school despite Ginger and Brigitte being social outcasts. Brigitte is upset by all of these changes; Ginger is, too, but she tries to play them off a lot more and pretend like there’s nothing serious going on. Brigitte goes to Sam for help, at first claiming that it’s she who was attacked. Meanwhile, Ginger hooks up with Jason (Jesse Moss), infecting him with lycanthropy through unprotected sex.
Most of the second act and into the third act concerns Ginger’s increased changes and her increased bloodlust and Brigitte’s increasing attempts to cure her sister’s condition. Also tossed into the mix are a few violent murders and the complete lack of a clue of the girls’ mother (Mimi Rogers).
So let’s talk about what Ginger Snaps gets right, and it’s pretty much everything. The biggest thing is the characters in general. It’s typical for a horror movie to treat female characters, particularly teen females, purely as victims. Oh, they’ll fight back now and then when they have to, but they scream and cry and usually fall down and twist their ankle. That’s absolutely not the case with Ginger and Brigitte. Ginger is particularly interesting because she has moments of complete vulnerability in dealing with what is happening to her, but spends a good amount of the film putting up an “I don’t care” front that is completely believable. Brigitte doesn’t take a lot of shit, either, but is also clearly concerned with what is happening to her sister.
I also appreciate the way that gore and blood are used here. There’s a lot of blood. There are also some wounds. But there’s not a great deal of gore, and the gore we do get tends to be the mutilated dogs early in the film. I appreciate this, because Ginger Snaps doesn’t throw in guts for the hell of it or for the shock value. One could argue that the blood is excessive, but I don’t think it is, and even if it is too much, it’s enough that it will satisfy the gorehounds among us. The big thing, though, is that none of it feels gratuitous.
So where does it fail? Only in two spots that I can see, and neither are that significant. First, I simply don’t buy one of the main plot points. Since Ginger Snaps is absolutely making a connection here between the physical changes of puberty and the more horrific ones of lycanthropy. I get that, and I appreciate the idea from a horror movie standpoint. But I don’t buy Ginger getting her first period at 16. I especially don’t buy that when she is clearly physically developed as a character—this is not someone who looks like an overgrown 12-year-old. She’s clearly matured, and so that particular plot point doesn’t work.
The second thing that fails for me is the creature effects in the last 20 minutes. We get this great hybrid look for Ginger in the third act, and then as the movie comes to a close we get a full lycanthrope that looks completely fake. I get the budget could be a problem. So why do it? It doesn’t look good, and the hybrid Ginger is a great look and would have worked all the way through the closing moments.
I get why people talk this one up, though. This (and films like Dog Soldiers) is what werewolf movies should be. Good characters, good plot and pacing, solid use of gore. Ginger Snaps hits on all cylinders.
Why to watch Ginger Snaps: A great addition to the werewolf genre.
Why not to watch: The creature effects at the end don’t hold up.