Out by sixteen or dead on the scene, but together forever. United against life as we know it
For a while I classed “Ginger Snaps” as one of my favourite films and quite possibly was top of that list at one point or another, but at the time of writing this I haven’t watched this wonderful gothic horror in several years. This is a big shame as I used to have the poster (specifically the one on the right) on my bedroom wall, and for a time I even considered it one of my favourite films.
Ginger Snaps isn’t a high budget film by any stretch of the imagination but it is a wonderfully made Canadian indie film with a small. This is down to numerous factors, including an excellent cast and some of the best make up that you are likely to see in any film where a character is slowly transforming into an animal.
With each cast member putting in a near perfect performance, even the minor characters, a unique story and one of the more unusual examples of character development in the 21st century, Ginger Snaps is an incredible indie film that keeps you wonderfully entertained throughout.
Ginger (Isabelle) and Bridgette (Perkins) are outcasts at their school and make no attempt to hide their macabre approach to life, which includes a rather morbid, if somewhat incredible, art project where they portray a gallery of death as a class project.
One night they are walking home together and Ginger gets attacked by a large animal but manages to survive. Although everything seems fine at first, she soon starts portraying behaviour that even Bridgette finds strange. It isn’t until Ginger’s body starts changing that they realise that the animal was infact a werewolf and Ginger is now transforming as the next full moon approaches.
As well as trying to hide it from their overly keen mother (Rogers), the girls try and find a cure for Ginger’s condition, although as it takes a tighter grip on her, Ginger suddenly starts to rebel against efforts to stop what is happening to her, even to the point where it puts innocent people at risk.
So what sets it apart from normal monster-flicks?
Well unlike most monster flicks, the monster is actually one of the protagonists and it is gradually growing inside of her. The film isn’t a full on action packed horror film, it has many different elements to it and in some parts of it the transformation into a werewolf takes a back seat to the great on-screen relationship between Ginger and Bridgette, which I would class as one of the strongest sibling bonds that I have ever seen in a film.
Despite being gothic and incredibly morbid about life, the sisters are extremely close and loyal to each other, and the tradegy of the film is watching that relationship slowly break apart as Ginger transforms and Bridgette struggles to come to terms with what is happening. Right from the outset they have plans of committing suicide together and are completely against the idea of relationships.
That opening scene is followed by one of the greatest montages in indie horror film history as the sisters present a unapologetically gruesome gallery of death for an art class, presenting pictures of themselves being impaled on fences, taking drug overdoses, drowning in a bath, run over by lawnmowers and far more gruesome things are done with such care and attention it makes you wonder why their teacher was so appalled when it was over given that it was evidence of excellent art and photography skills. It is also helped by a remarkably morbid violin (at least I think it’s a violin) theme.
I don’t give out praise lightly, especially to the point where I say something is the best of anything, but there are very few opening credit scenes as eye openingly exceptional as this. I can think of many accomplished open credit scenes to films, such as when you follow a bullet’s journey from being made in the factory to being shot into a child’s head in “Lord of War”, right through to the nostalgia inducing epic that is the intro to “Watchmen”, but neither come close to this. It may be simplistic in nature but even now, 13 years after I first saw the movie, it sticks with me.
“Ginger Snaps” also likes to use itself as a metaphor for when a girl goes through pregnancy and her body starts changing. There are heavy themes of the female puberty throughout, even to the point where Ginger thinks that her pains from changing into a werewolf internally is the result of period pains, and then the not so subtle character of the mother.
The mother is very worried that Ginger, a girl of 15 in the film, hasn’t started having periods yet and couldn’t be more delighted when she finds some of Ginger’s underwear with bloodstains all over it. Infact, the mother is one of the more complex characters in the film as she doesn’t know what’s happening but will stick up for her daughters against her better judgement, even when she discovers a body of a student that upset Ginger in the freezer.
It’s really hard to think of a character even remotely similar to the mother, who takes delight in discussing the menstrual cycles of her daughters at the dinner table, much to the uncomfortable displeasure of the father. Despite being exceptionally one dimensional, the mother character is actually quite refreshing to watch and unintentionally adds a comedic level to things.
Grim attributes continue throughout the film to the point where you wonder where they’re going to go next. There are the more obvious elements such as when Bridgette falls into the remains of an animal that has been torn apart, right through to when Ginger eviscerates the school janitor and takes joy it in.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a gross-out film, far from it. Yes, I know the fact that I’ve mentioned characters being run over by lawnmowers, Bridgette falling into dog remains and many other similar things, but it’s all done with the intention of adding to this eerie masterpiece of a film. Infact, if anything the landing in a dog reveals a lot about the character of Bridgette because for all of her morbid fascination with death, the first thing she does when she lands in the dead animal’s body is to give a very visceral reaction, and at that point you get to learn that Bridgette might not be all that she has seemed.
Infact, both have an interesting level of character depth. Whilst they both have a great level of the macabre about them, giving the impression that they don’t give a fuck about anything at all, yet both are probably more like your stereotypical teenage girls than they’re prepared to admit. They spend their time on the sports field bitching and making fun of another girl, coming up with plans to embarrass others and Ginger not knowing how to react when she is asked out on a date rather than just outright saying no, which is what you would expect.
Ginger’s character develops exceptionally well and you wonder if her personality changes are down to just her transformation into a werewolf or the onset of puberty. Her increasingly sexualised nature, willingness to become more popular and abandon her sister and near enough completely abandoning her previous gothic tendencies, any of them could be by natural causes or the result of the transformation, you’re never entirely sure.
One of the most dramatic changes emotionally is evident when Ginger is being barked at heavily by a dog in the school and she responds by kicking it in the head. Nothing before that suggests that she is a violent person, especially not towards animals, yet now she is willingly attacking animals in front of people. It’s an interesting switch around and the first time that you’re made even aware that her personality is changing.
The transformation into a werewolf is intriguing in it’s own way and done in a completely different way to other films on a similar nature. In most the character only has to worry about transforming when a full moon is present, but in “Ginger Snaps” Ginger, and the characters she infects via methods of sex, gradually transform during the month before completing it on the full moon, and what’s even more terrifying is that from all of the evidence presented, the transformation is permanent and the characters will never turn back into their human form.
Just so you’re aware and not expecting a lot, the final transformation scene is done mainly in the shadows and you don’t see a lot, but that actually makes it more effective. The changes before her final transformation are subtle and tiny things change each time she is on screen and it’s an exceptional level of detail and attention that has been put in by all involved.
It isn’t just what’s happening to Ginger that is interesting through as after a while she infects a guy called Jason, from that point onwards you see that the genders act differently the transformations. Jason develops a severe itch, grows several noticeable warts on his face and starts urinating blood, as well as several other minor things that Ginger doesn’t experience and when I review the second film I will go into a point regarding the Jason character that most probably haven’t thought of, but I can’t really mention it in this without spoiling something about a major plot element in the second half of the film.
I will end this section by talking about the ending. Now, I’m not going to give away what happens but the final scene strikes up numerous emotions, none of them happy, and in many ways it’s the perfect end to this aberrant horror film.
I’m not even entirely sure if I would classify it as a horror film as there aren’t that many horror elements to the film, but it’s the closest genre I can fit this into as there are so few films anywhere like this. I wouldn’t call this a genre-defining film, mainly because it’s not very well known, but this is definitely something you won’t have seen before and that makes it completely unpredictable, which is what you want from a movie. I hate predictability in films and this film certainly keeps surprising you as it progresses.
I don’t use this term lightly, especially when talking about low budget films, but I would call “Ginger Snaps” a macabre masterpiece. For the purposes of this review I watched the film for the first time in several years, at least five, and I loved it as much as the first time that I saw it. It is wonderfully morbid.
The attention to detail to even minor things is such a refreshing change and it’s very rare you see a film that fits so neatly into a genre but is completely unlike any other film in that genre. I’ve never seen another film like it and I guarantee that you haven’t either.
Regardless of your preferred choice of genre, I would recommend this as it is unlike any other film you will ever see. I’m not going to lie and lead you on with any false pretences, this isn’t a film that is full on action all of the way, there are long spells where things don’t happen, but if you want 103 minutes of your life filled with something completely unique, this is the film for you.