Reviewed by Lee Broughton
'Note: This is a Region 2 PAL release. Region 1 NTSC content may be different.'
This independent Canadian offering is technically a teen horror flick but it doesn't really
have that much in common with the burgeoning teen horror genre that has come to prominence
in the US over the last few years. Any attempt to plot even the vaguest approximation of
where this film should be placed in the long term scheme of things would involve travelling
as far back as Brian De Palma's Carrie, taking in elements of Andrew Fleming's
The Craft along the way.
In the dreary Canadian suburb of Bailey Downs, an unidentified predator is
wrecking havoc after dark. Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) Fitzgerald,
two insular and inseparable sisters who share a morbid obsession with the darker side of life,
sneak out late one night intending to commit an act of mischief that they hope will be blamed
on 'the Beast'. Unfortunately, they run straight into 'the Beast' and Ginger bears the brunt
of a ferocious attack. The pair manage to make it home where they discover that Ginger's
seemingly severe wounds are already beginning to heal themselves. It soon becomes apparent
that her assailant was a werewolf and that Ginger is slowly becoming one herself.
Refreshingly, most of these Canadian students look pretty much like regular kids when
compared to the junior super-model types who attend high school classes in America. And
these Canadian kids don't even try to get all clever and self-referential when tackling
their particular problem: when a solid silver belly button piercing has no determinable
effect on Ginger's condition, they simply declare that they have to 'forget the Hollywood
rules' and start again from scratch. Maybe it's the intent expressed in that very declaration
that makes this film stand out from the crowd somewhat.
In some ways, Ginger Snaps is like the snotty, streetwise cousin of Peter Jackson's
Dead Alive and Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore. Quirky and queasy, all
three films feature marginalized lead characters who find their attempts to define their
personal position within their local community confounded by the sudden appearance of a
problematic supernatural distraction. Trying to work on new relationships and simultaneously
deal with the supernatural intrusion inevitably results in each of their personal
situations spiralling out of control, leading to some particularly dark and unsettling
humour and some macabre, disturbing and downright ghoulish imagery. All three films
are independent, low-budget affairs but they all manage to transcend their financial
limitations and display noticeable evidence of intelligent and artistic intent in their
approach, while being wise enough to avoid taking themselves, and their sporadically grisly
and gruesome content, too seriously. Ginger Snaps isn't quite as stylish as Dead Alive
or Dellamorte Dellamore, but it has its moments. In common with many recent
features, the film contains a few sequences where the framing looks just a little bit indecisive
but it's not distracting enough to be a problem.
While it's easy to sympathize with the Fitzgerald sisters' position as outsiders in their
own community, they don't come across as particularly likeable individuals initially.
They're just too morbid, cynical, sullen and petulant for their own good. Their agenda
seems to have been set by Ginger (who is almost 16) with younger sister Brigitte (who has
just turned 15) willingly following suit, simply because she respects and depends on her older
sister so much. But everything changes the night that Ginger is attacked. By coincidence,
Ginger had had her first period that very night and, at first, there is some debate as to
whether her sudden mood swings, muscle cramps and changes of attitude are simply the result
of perfectly normal hormonal shifts, as opposed to the early stages of lycanthropy. But
there's no doubting that something more than the late onset of puberty is at work when the
first signs of a gradual physical transformation reveal themselves: Ginger grows a tail,
hair appears around her healing wounds, her teeth become fang-like and her bones and muscles
ripple with aggressive energy whenever she becomes angry.
When Ginger begins to relish the feelings of confidence and power that her ongoing physical
transformation provides, Brigitte is forced to think and act independently for the
first time in her life. She seeks out the local dope dealer, Sam (Kris Lemche), who also
saw the original werewolf, in the hope that his knowledge of exotic herbs and flora might
prove useful in the search for a cure for Ginger's condition. But Ginger doesn't want
to be cured. She does, however, fully intend holding her sister to their childhood
pact of being 'together forever, united against life as they know it,' leaving Brigitte
perilously torn between her unswerving loyalty to Ginger and traitorous thoughts of
The idea of paralleling the physical and mental changes that occur at puberty with those
of Ginger's gradual lycanthropic transformation, and blurring the edges where they
meet, is rather novel and is reasonably well executed. But the secondary theme
of the younger sibling being forced to step from the shadows and find her own
strength, voice and opinions for the first time is equally interesting. As such,
it's easy to appreciate why the film is being described as a 'feminist horror film'
in some quarters.
The special effects are handled pretty well. The initial attack on Ginger is frenetic
and chaotic and very little is seen of the werewolf as it repeatedly swoops in on
its prey with lightning-fast speed and immense physical power. Tense and atmospheric stuff.
Ginger in mid-transformation looks like a pretty foxy chick in a great Halloween outfit,
which is exactly how she is perceived by her peers when she struts into a Halloween party
looking for Sam. The party sequence is one of a couple of instances where director John
Fawcett employs a mock MTV-style swagger, which works all the better for its sparing use:
effective snatches of heavy rock and techno numbers are present throughout the film but
good use is also made of the atmospheric soundtrack music proper, as composed by Michael
Shields. The monstrously lupine creature that Ginger eventually evolves into is just
about convincing enough to work.
Given the fantastical subject matter of the movie, the acting in this film is uniformly
excellent. All of the supporting cast are great and Katharine Isabelle and Kris Lemche
both make fine lead players but Emily Perkins's portrayal of Brigitte is really something
else, managing to make Brigitte's own transformation, on a personal level, as interesting
and as engaging as Ginger's more noticeable mental and physical transformation.
For a low budget feature, the picture and the sound quality are excellent. There are a couple of
very dark scenes towards the end of the film that do suffer from a slight loss of definition
but that kind of goes with the territory. Portions of
Isabelle's and Perkins's shared screen tests are included in the extras
section and these prove to be interesting, indicating that there was a clear chemistry
between the two from the outset. The twelve page booklet that comes with the disc is a
mock-up of Brigitte's personal diary, with stills from the film presented as hastily
mounted Polaroids and newspaper cuttings. All in all, a decent presentation of a film
that has largely succeeded in its attempt to add a new twist to a familiar tale.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Ginger Snaps rates:
Supplements: Screen tests, promo/behind the scenes featurette, creation of 'the Beast'
featurette, trailer, production notes, booklet, cast & crew notes.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 4, 2001
Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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