Does anyone else remember the days when horror movies were actually scary? When a sleepover with your best friend and a trip to the video store meant an adventure of epic proportions? The selection of the film meant deciding which box boasted the most frightening beast; the ritual itself consisted of a sleepless night clinging to each other, too afraid to let your feet touch the floor, all the while refusing to admit to each other that you were scared. It was well into my teenage years before I could walk by a vent, open or closed, without expecting a gremlin to reach out and grab my ankle.
It's hard to watch and enjoy 95% of horror movies these days. I'm not one of those people that can still get wrapped up in a slasher flick for anything other than the comedic value. It just doesn't work. I need something more. I need smart filmmaking. I need a clever, well-constructed story, which perhaps even goes beyond genre boundaries. Thankfully, Ginger Snaps delivers.
The film follows the story of two very close sisters, Ginger and Brigitte (played by Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins respectively), who are attacked by an unnamed beast while out trying to pull a practical joke on a mean girl they know. Ginger is nearly torn to shreds by the shadowed attacker before managing to escape, and yet, as Brigitte tries to clean her wounds after their near escape, it seems that her injuries are less grievous than they seemed. In fact, as they watch, the scratches seem to fade away. That's right, it's a werewolf movie. But it's not like any you've ever seen.
The changes Ginger finds herself undergoing are in fact poignant metaphor for the changes every young girl finds herself going through at a certain point in her life. In fact, when Ginger gets her period for the first time, after the attack, the sisters mistake many of her physical transformations as a side effect of puberty, rather than lycanthropy. The iconic wolf, which usually symbolizes man's more bestial nature, is now reflective of the hormonal whirlwind of puberty. Something which, I'll be the first to admit, hits the ladies much harder than us guys. Ginger's changes, rather than simple aggression, include increased confidence, a rather explosive sexual awakening, and an amplification of her paranoid protection of her sister.
As Ginger loses herself in her growing darker side, the younger Brigitte must stand alone, and take the initiative without her stronger, leading sibling to tell her what to do. Brigitte's growing independence and strength is inspiring in its way, and, besides the unique concept, is what separates this movie from most others in the genre. Character development is usually lost on horror filmmakers, but director John Fawcett breaks that tradition. You find yourself caring about Ginger, and fearing for her. She's neither teenage wolf chow, nor the two-dimensional guy with a chainsaw and shotgun full of silver buckshot.
Brigitte faces a battle to find herself, and must stand up to the one person who both protected and weakened her. As she tries to recall her sister from the brink of insanity, she is simultaneously moving out from under her shadow. Now she is the strong one, and the final showdown is truly climactic.
Isabelle and Perkins, both veterans, had a chemistry that was key. Even as their characters drift apart, they remain the most important people in each other's lives. The obsession, co-dependence and, yes, genuine love and concern, were evident in the performances of each. Their's is a dysfunctional relationship before Ginger ever becomes a werewolf, but blood is thicker and water, and these actresses' portrayal of that kinship is powerful and believable.
In closing, I feel I need to emphasize that we're talking about a truly rare animal here. For once, you can forget the disclaimer. You don't have to tell your friends it's pretty good "for a horror movie." You can genuinely recommend this as a decent flick, with no catch. I'd even like to go so far as to say that this is a horror movie for people who don't like horror movies”, but I won't lie. If you're the type to jump, you'll probably jump. Instead, let's just say this is a movie for people who don't like bad movies, horror or otherwise. So if you are squeamish, maybe take a shot of courage, grab your favourite blankie, and find someone to hold you when you're scared, because you'd be cheating yourself if you missed this one.