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Savant Region 2 Guest Review:

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps
Mosaic Entertainment
2000 / Colour / 1.85:1 anamorphic 16:9 / 104 mins.(PAL speed)
Starring Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche, Jesse Moss, Danielle Hampton, Peter Keleghan, John Bourgeois, Mimi Rogers
Cinematography Thom Best
Production Designer Todd Cherniawsky
Art Direction Mary Wilkinson
Film Editor Brett C. Sullivan
Original Music Mike Shields
Writing credits Karen Walton from a story by Karen Walton and John Fawcett
Produced by Karen Lee Hall & Steven Hoban
Directed by John Fawcett

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 self preservation.

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:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
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

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Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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