October 9, 2012

Ginger Snaps (2000)

"When beautiful but reclusive goth teenager Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is attacked by a monstrous wolf on the eve of her first period, her body starts changing in a big way, as do her suddenly lusty, feral appetites."

Nine days into October, it's time for a change of horror subgenre again. We've already had ghosts and vampires, so how about a couple of days of werewolves? Following the vampiric "girl power" of "Daughters of Darkness" (1971), I decided to yank "Ginger Snaps" out of The Vault to reappraise how a more modern supernatural story would deal with feminine horror.

Although both "Daughters of Darkness" and "Ginger Snaps" superficially play around the misogynistic horror cliché that all women are dangerous monsters, "Ginger Snaps" is possibly a little bit more feminist, even though it was still directed and co-written by a man. I'm not a woman either, so I've always watched "Ginger Snaps" in the wrong kind of exploitative way.

A lot has always been made out of how "Ginger Snaps" is a metaphor for puberty. Although I'm tempted to agree, the coming of age or sexual awakening themes have always been intrinsic to werewolf mythology, so puberty is merely a trait. Even going back to the tale of "Little Red Riding Hood" and its classical origin in the myth of Kore, girls reaching puberty and straying from the masculine sphere of protection have always brought a load of trouble down on themselves. In fairness, if you ever read Ovid's "Metamorphoses", young men often come to a far worse end in most of the ancient myths according to however many rules about hubris, ethnocentrism, or morality are being highlighted on the way.

One of the more difficult aspects of "Ginger Snaps" to fit into any kind of generic moral fable, however, is that the two sisters, Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle), are outsiders to begin with. They aren't popular girls in school, their interest in photographing fake crime scenes is kind of weird, and they are both extremely late developers physically. In the majority of werewolf movies a fairly normal person is traumatically forced into "otherness" rather than already being there. Usually a quite innocent male protagonist ends up in a battle for his immortal soul. "Ginger Snaps" not only changes the gender of the protagonist but also becomes more complex than that. Ginger Fitzgerald may technically also be innocent, but she is an accident waiting to happen and the odds are not in her favour.

I'm not an expert on teenage girls by any stretch of the imagination, but whereas it is easy to accept how the Fitzgerald sisters resort to some very odd ways of entertaining themselves in the days before broadband internet and social networking sites took off, the puberty aspect still feels quite contrived. It is, of course, possible for teenagers to not reach puberty until sixteen, but it's easy to argue that there was something more sinister and exploitative to this plot point.

Basically, Katharine Isabelle was 19 years old when she made "Ginger Snaps" and quite legally able to be a possible "lust object" rather than "jail bait" for the potential audience. Yes, I'm being cynical, but you have to ask yourself why she was cast as a character who becomes increasingly hotter as the movie progresses rather than her slightly weird-looking, less attractive (and, in real life, older) on screen sister. The simplest answer is that sex sells a movie like this. The intention was never to make a movie which was really only for girls at all in spite of having extremely strong female leads. There's no doubt that Emily Perkins is the stronger actress of the two or that she has more lines, more character development, and more time on screen, but whenever Ginger appears who, honestly, even cares about Brigitte?

Don't get me wrong, I think that Emily Perkins is great in "Ginger Snaps", but it's not until the sequel that she really gets a chance to blossom into a rather attractive character herself. In "Ginger Snaps", Brigitte is there to appeal to the female audience and Ginger, even when she gets hairy and grows a phallic-looking tail, is most certainly the eyecandy for the boys. Well played, John Fawcett, well played indeed.

With "Ginger Snaps" being an obvious template for "Jennifer's Body", if you've already seen and loved the latter, you probably won't like "Ginger Snaps" as much. The effects in "Ginger Snaps" are a bit dated now and the dialogue isn't so hip. I think both movies have a lot of merits, but whatever criticism you throw at the plot of one can also be thrown at the other since they are essentially the same story with different monsters. Ultimately, both owe a lot to Stephen King's "Carrie" (1976).

"Ginger Snaps", the best selling Canadian movie of 2001, is still one of the greatest werewolf movies ever made, and it definitely has enough blood and gore to appeal to the hardcore horror fans as well as the first timers. It's not a very scary movie, and many people who enjoy it aren't even horror fans, so if you looking for something a little bit classier to introduce your girlfriend (or wussypants boyfriend) to the horror genre on Hallowe'en, this is the movie for you.

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