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July 1, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #26 - Ginger Snaps

I really can't know anything about Ginger Snaps, considering my lack of female genitalia. The film's central theme, which is hidden under a shiny werewolf cover, most certainly focuses on the difficulties young girls face when they reach the menstrual cycle. OK, maybe I can relate a little bit, I do have memories of helping my sister do "tampon math" whilst pricing in a Wal-Mart aisle. While my sister was a little vicious, even she can't compare to the teenage behaviors of Miss Ginger Fitzgerald.

Ginger (played by Katharine Isabelle) and her sister Bridget (Emily Perkins) are 16 and 15, respectively, and fascinated by death. They've even got one of those cute BFF-style pacts - "out by 16 or dead in the scene" - which I assume is because they know that life definitely gets worse once you're old enough to drive. But when Ginger gets attacked by a beast, she starts to change. The beast that Bridget catches on camera looks a lot like a werewolf, but the effects look a lot like the blood tide that I hear happens when women reach a certain stage of development. The sisters meet with the school's nurse, a middle-aged woman who's quite chipper while assuring the girls that none of the weird changes are out of the ordinary. But, these girls notice quickly that growing a tail can't possibly be normal.
In a telling moment, a male admirer who notices Ginger being effected offers her some help "to take off the edge". Ginger, who has always been the more photogenic (and thus, more noticeable) sister, responds with a confident "Maybe I like my edge." In what seems like no time she starts to realize what her "curse" is, and this curse in turn changes her outlook on teenage life, particularly when the opposite sex is involved. She begins to dress differently, to interact more aggressively with boys, and to distance herself from her younger sister, presumably because she thinks Bridget couldn't possibly understand her new ways.

If I hadn't used the word werewolf earlier, you might assume the film is simply a coming-of-age drama, or at least a John Hughes film. Like Hughes' film, most adults in the girls' life are presented as out-of-touch and one-dimensional. The girls' father sits quietly and shakes his head most of the time, trying to avoid having to talk about what's going on. The male guidance counselor takes offense to the girls' macabre tendencies, and fits into the sweater wearing conservative teacher role well. The girls' mother, played by Tom Cruise's leftover Mimi Rogers, is the most interesting of these adult characters. Though her role is designed to be over-the-top, her motherly pride while basking in the joy of her daughter's special time adds a lot of humor to the film. It also advances the gender dynamics, and at one point she even tells her husband to "stay in your little world", assuming he'd be confused by the one females exist in. In this case, I'd say she was dead on.Considering the parallel the film tries to make, this almost satiric tone really helps keep Ginger Snaps fresh. The film's ability to lighten the mood while dealing with lycanthropy reminds the viewer of the early '80s when John Landis and Joe Dante, were bringing werewolves back to the mainstream. Director John Fawcett, like those two men, seems to recognize that completely serious takes on werewolf mythology haven't worked since the 1940s.

Ginger Snaps has aged pretty well since becoming a minor sensation on DVD and SyFy in the early 2000s. The film spawned two sequels, which remained true to the sisterly bond that is driving force for the characters. Neither sequel, however, succeeded in creating an interesting take on the female condition, and I think - despite my previously mentioned gender - that the original Ginger Snaps managed to pull that off with flair. Thanks to Fawcett's handling of Karen Walton's script, Ginger and Bridget are allowed to exist alongside the best tragic characters in this generally tragic subgenre, and the film's blurring of the line between the menstrual and lunar cycles - which goes so far as to having Ginger equate feeding on a victim to sexual intercourse - lives on as a stroke of genius.
These days, when teenage girls and werewolves are only put together with sparkle vampires, it helps to have Ginger Snaps around as counter-programming. Maybe, if we're lucky, some of the young ladies obsessed with that watered-down horror franchise will someday realize that they like their "edge" too.

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Enbrethiliel said...


I always felt so sorry for Bridget, who was totally in denial about Ginger's fate. But don't we want our own sisters to have that much faith in us?

Morgan said...

I always feel like I need to take a shower after watching Ginger Snaps, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Jinx said...

I feel like a complete fool for not having seen this. I keep hearing about it, and everyone seems to love it, but I never manage to watch it. I love werewolves, and I love SyFy, you'd think I'd have made the effort by now. I suck. Must rectify this.

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

"I can't have a hairy chest, B. That's fucked!"

Anonymous said...

I love this movie!
Katherine Isabelle (and her role) is extremely sexy!!

The Cheshire Cat said...

Great review. Personally, this movie didn't do it for me. I get that some people enjoy it because of the analogy to puberty and the unique female roles. But I watched this movie to see a horror werewolf movie and it did not deliver.

If you get the chance, you should check out my review. I can always use more feedback.