“It’s the curse.”
Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is referring to her period, but those words take on new meaning as she’s mauled by a werewolf in front of her younger sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins).
John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps is not the first to make the connection between menstruation and lycanthropy (and I doubt it will be the last), but along with screenwriter Karen Lee Hall, it offers a darkly funny, scary and touching metaphor for the changes girls face during adolescence.
Brigitte, with her mousy hair, hunched posture and oversized coats is a champion for all misfit girls everywhere. Even though Ginger is as death-obsessed (if not more so) than her sister, Brigitte is always treated as the weird one. But the movie also lets her be smart and capable as she deals with her sister’s growing murderous instincts.
Early jokes – think Buffy, but much more morbid – set one tone that progressively changes as the movie continues. Sly touches – the local drug dealer having knowledge of a cure (which ends up coming in the form of a decorative plant purchased at a craft store); the sisters’ perfect suburban mom, played by Mimi Rogers.
While the effects do feel a little cheap sometimes (the werewolf is best when it’s not seen, and Ginger’s transition is awkward at some points), Fawcett gets enough mileage out of them. There’s a good deal of body horror here, as Ginger grows a tail and body hair, among other things. Except for the tail part (I hope), the changes reflect all adolescent changes. It’s definitely not a metaphor anyone is beating viewers over the head with, though, fortunately.
Leaving the dark humor behind, the last act is all pure horror as Brigitte (who intentionally infects herself to win her sister’s trust) faces off with a now fully-transformed Ginger. The transition feels earned — being obsessed with death is fun when it’s all abstract. It’s completely different when death is real.
Unlike most horror movies, as much as we’re rooting for our last girl, Brigitte, we never forget the monster she’s fighting is her own sister. As the body count rises and more blood is spilled, the movie becomes much more emotionally complex. Even when Brigitte survives in the end, it’s as heartbreaking as if she hadn’t.
Eden Miller is one of the organizers of SPX, the Small Press Expo. It’s one of the largest independent comics conventions out there. She likes movies.