There have been very few good films about Werewolves. This is one of them.
I am not sure why so making a film about werewolves is so hard. The basic concept seems easy to understand. It is about our own fears about how we are not any different than savage animals. Our own civility is just a disguise – when we are put back into our most basic sitting (the forest at a full moon) we become the monsters that have always existed within us. There is some great material in the basic mythology. Ginger Snaps addresses them all, and even manages to stake out some new territory.
The film follows two sisters, Brigette Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) and Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle). While out one evening, they are attacked by a creature that has been mutilating neighborhood dogs. The creature is killed, but not before it bites Ginger. Ginger starts undergoing wild changes, but many people assure Brigette that it is actually associated with Ginger’s first period. Yet, when Ginger starts mutilating dogs and even people. Her sister Brigette starts seeking help from Sam McDonald (Kris Lemche) who had killed the first creature. But as Ginger’s violent desires grow stronger and her transformation more dramatic, Brigette and Sam become more and more afraid that there is little that can be done for her.
Now, I am going to talk about the performances, the make up effects (including the most effective werewolf transformation scene since An American Werewolf in London) and the like. But those, by themselves, are not what makes the movie great.
What makes the film great is how it deals with the whole concept of werewolves. Essentially, the film equates lycanthropy to puberty. Ginger’s transformation begins with her period (which, incidentally, follows the lunar cycle) and it is her emotional transformation rather than her physical one that is given a great amount of attention.
She essentially alienates herself from her sister and friends in order to experiment with her own body. There are scenes in the film dealing with a piercing (certainly something every teenage girl goes through) as well as her experiments with sex (she has unprotected sex with a boy and ends up turning him into a werewolf). Along the way, she
This is how many people experience those years. People that they have known their entire lives suddenly turn into monsters who contain very little of the original traits that they once did. That in itself is a horrifying experience. Some people never quite recover from it, in the way that the ending of the film foreshadows.
The transformation sequences also help. Unlike other werewolf films, the transformation is actually quite gradual; it reminds me of David Cronenberg’s The Fly. The people infected spout tails, hair, and something that resembles acne. Ginger tries to hide what is happening and, as with The Fly, tries to cut certain new parts of her anatomy away. Also, as with The Fly, Ginger looks upon certain items as an improvement, dressing more provocatively to attract attention.
It is not merely an homage, but actually works very well in describing the overall theme. Ginger’s moods (and thus Isabelle’s exquisite performance) alternate between anger, fear, and downright arrogance. Yet ultimately, there are aspects about her that do show devotion and sisterly love. She is actually far more complex than most people would notice at first glance.
Actually, the entire film contains layers that most would not notice at first glance. Yes, it is a horror film, so there is plenty of gore and the like to satisfy those thrill seekers. But there is enough here about alienation and angst t0 make it rise to higher levels. This is what all horror needs to do to be effective. I even think that the film explores female angst better than Carrie did.
I really liked this film. It shows more about the alienation of adolescence than many other so called “teen” films have managed to do. In addition, it takes a classic idea and still manages to make it appear fresh and invigorating. Isn’t that enough of an accomplishment?