Ginger Snaps

Day Twenty Nine of the 2010 Silver Shamrock Happy Halloween Countdown!

Happy Halloween Countdown Day Twenty Nine

Ginger Snaps
Can you believe it? This movie is ten years old as I write this and I only just watched it last night. I’d not even heard of it until maybe two years ago.  Granted, until I hit my mid-life crisis, which transformed me from a mild-mannered newspaper reporter into Captain Midnight (imagine that I said Captain Midnight in a loud, deep echoing voice. Dramatic!), I wasn’t all that plugged into the horror community.

I stopped reading Fangoria when I was about twelve-years-old.  It didn’t help that my only means of seeing new movies was either at the local mega-plex or Blockbuster, both of which are limited to largely wide release big budget studio films. Excuse me just one moment, will you?  I want to have a quick word with Blockbuster.

Blockbuster, the last time I was in one your stores, which was probably about three years ago, I couldn’t rent a movie.  Why? Because, my account had expired due to inactivity.  I had to make a new account, which is by now also expired.  What’s my problem?  The typical Blockbuster will have about forty copies of the most recent Owen Wilson atrocity, but not one copy of Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.  That’s not all, instead of independent films, almost all of what you carry, Blockbuster, are recent major studio releases, very the same caca-doody that I avoided when it was at the theater two months previously.  Screw you, Blockbuster!

Okay, I’m back.  Where was I? Oh, yeah, Ginger Snaps.  Right, so, I didn’t  find out about Ginger Snaps until recently.  I had heard people in the horror community say nice things about it and with no discernible dissent.  So I put Ginger Snaps on my list of stuff to watch, where it waited patiently for about two years (it’s a mighty long list) only getting to it last night.

The Ginger in Ginger Snaps is Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle), an intelligent and attractive young high school girl. Unlike most attractive young high school girls, Ginger isn’t interested in joining the adolescent cat race to be the most popular girl in school, nor is she content to take the other common path of hiding in the shadows.  She and her sister, Bridgette, (Emily Perkins) have formed their own little club whose motto is: Alienation.   Morbid and angry their chief activity is finding new ways to upset the apple cart for those around them.  For a school art project, the girls submit a portfolio consisting of photos depicting carefully staged scenes. Each scene features one, or both of the sisters killed in gruesome ways;  like police crime scene photos.  Practice makes perfect, and these girls have clearly practiced.

The Fitzgerald sisters’ refusal to knuckle-under to, participate in, or even acknowledge the teen social hierarchy brings forth the wrath of Trina (Danielle Hampton), the most popular girl in school, who artlessly uses the field hockey games played in Physical Education class to ruff up little Bridgette.  To get revenge, Ginger and Bridgette decide to abduct Trina’s dog and leave in its place a puddle of fake blood.  Everyone will think that dog has been taken by a mysterious beast that has been eating the neighborhood pets, leaving only a gory mess as its calling card.

You can guess what happens next.  Two girls wandering outside at night, their way lit by the full moon, with only a plastic bag of fake blood to protect them.  Still, when it happens, I was somewhat surprised.  I was totally with Ginger and Bridgette. I focused on the task of nabbing the dog, making the bloody mess and slinking away without getting caught.  I totally forgot about the werewolf premise.  I think that says something positive about the movie. Usually I’m all antsy about getting to the monsters.

Ginger gets bit by the beast and gets the curse.  Mayhem ensues.

The title, Ginger Snaps, gives a bit of insight, I think,  into what we’re buying into as a movie —   ginger snaps, as in the tasty little cookie.  There is also Ginger snaps, as in Ginger loses composure and acts out violently.  There is also Ginger snaps, as in snapping and biting with great gnashing teeth.  All of these Gingers apply.  It’s a very clever title for a movie that implicitly compares and contrasts the arrival of “The Curse” and female sexual awakening with the lycanthropy.  A werewolf story about two gothy teenage high school girls coming of age, set in suburban Ontario, if made in Hollywood instead of Canada, would be played for laughs and marketed as a lame teen comedy.  While it has some dark humor, Ginger Snaps, is played as a straight horror film; it works marvelously well.

Ginger Snaps is strong out of the gate.  It’s very well written.  I could go on about how the usual implied dynamic of male sexual aggression inherent in werewolf movies in deliciously inverted here and go all Film School-Women’s Studies-Sociology-Class-Fu on you, but that would be boring.  Screen writer Karen Walton, beyond the sexual sub-text, populates her werewolf story with interesting characters and gives them interesting things to say.   Ginger and Bridgette are so well drawn that they could carry a movie that was just about them dealing with normal high school drama trauma.  The two leads, Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle are terrific, making the most of their roles.  They play off each other with real chemistry.

In werewolf movies, the money shot is the transformation scene.  Ginger Snaps, filmed on a small budget, sort of side steps the elaborate transformation scene like those in An American Werewolf in London or The Howling.  Ginger progressively gets more wolfy as the night of the full moon approaches, not only in appearance, but in behavior as well.  When the night of the full moon arrives she can hold back no longer and changes into a large she-wolf.  We only see a few quick cuts of the final transformation.  I didn’t feel cheated.  The special effects are all practical effects.  The blood is honest to goodness corn syrup and food coloring.  The wolfy effects are done with make-up, appliances and animatronics.  Though the animatronic werewolf Ginger didn’t look anywhere near to convincing as the fearsome beast in An American Werewolf in London, I was so happy to see something that wasn’t Shreked up in a computer, I didn’t care.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a  movie that I was this enthusiastic about; well written, well acted and competently directed, Ginger Snaps deserves mainstream notice.  That a film like Twilight could make nearly 400 million dollars word-wide while Ginger Snaps only managed a one week engagement on one screen is criminal.

Starring:
Emily Perkins
Katharine Isabelle
Kris Lemche
Mimi Rogers

Director:
John Fawcett

Screenplay:
Karen Walton
John Fawcett

Four out of five Vincents

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