Ginger Snaps (2000)

They don’t call it the curse for nothing

Writers: Karen Walton, John Fawcett
Director: John Fawcett

Ginger Snaps has been rightly credited with reinventing the werewolf genre. It took what had become a tired cliche and modernised it. This film contains no silver bullets, torch bearing mobs or actors ducking behind couches to put on a hairy wolf mask.

Instead Ginger Snaps is a modern story of lycanthropism that remains true to the genre’s roots whilst also adding a powerful layer of sexual symbolism. In that way it’s similar to The Company of Wolves (1984), but Ginger Snaps is firmly rooted in contemporary reality. It’s also ambiguous – even the title has (at least) three meanings.

The film revolves around two mid-teenage sisters, Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle). Both are unhappy, death-obsessed and bored. Also, neither has yet started menstruating.

In the middle-class town where they live some strange creature – the “Beast of Bailey Downs” – is killing pet dogs. Ginger soon has her first period and shortly after has an encounter with the Beast.

In the same way that vampirism is now sometimes used as a metaphor for AIDS, Ginger Snaps uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty and sexual maturation. Ginger changes. At first these changes aren’t mainly physical ones. Instead she changes personality, going from shy frump to confident nymphomaniac making up for lost time.

The metaphor is obvious: Ginger is growing up. For a while I wondered if the film might be intended to be purely metaphorical. Although Ginger is the central focus, for the most part Bridgitte is the main viewpoint character. Are we simply seeing Ginger’s transformation into adulthood through her sister’s eyes?

Nope. This isn’t either/or literal or metaphor. This is both. Ginger is becoming a werewolf with all that entails (pardon the pun). She’s also growing up.

This certainly isn’t a pleasant film. It’s not a gore-fest: what blood ‘n’ guts we do see is integral to the plot. But there is a lot of blood, not all of it the result of werewolf attack. Although it has moments of black humour, Ginger Snaps isn’t tea-time viewing.

It is a very intelligent reformulation of the werewolf concept which combines metaphor seamlessly with a good story. It grabs you from the start with a brilliant and unforgettable title sequence. Established genre rules are successfully broken and the whole thing is refreshingly different. It’s interesting that the most intelligent and
sympathetic character in the whole film is the local drug dealer!

The acting is excellent. Perkins & Isabelle both deserve praise, in particular Isabelle’s Ginger makes the transition from prude to seductress magnificently. Mimi Rogers is also superb as the highly embarrassing mother.

If it’s all so good, why only three stars? Because of the ending. After a climactic (and otherwise excellent) final encounter it just… stops. Nothing is resolved and we’re left with more questions than answers on both the literal and metaphoric level. Loose ends hang everywhere.

A degree of uncertainty in an ending can work well, but this was too much. I was left thinking “But… Didn’t… What about…”. It’s as if the need to end on an exciting scene overcame the needs of good storytelling.

Which is a shame. With just a little more work, Ginger Snaps could have been a classic.