director : John Fawcett
script : Karen Walton (story : Fawcett, Walton)
cinematography : Thom Best
editing : Brett Sullivan
music : Michael Shields
lead actors : Katharine Isabelle, Emily Perkins, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers
Curse as in werewolf, and as in menstruation: Ginger Snaps makes the link more explicit than even Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves: Ginger (Isabelle), 16, and her year-younger sister Brigitte (Perkins) are both long overdue their first period. Outdoors one full-moon night, Ginger finally ovulates – unluckily for her, the blood attracts a passing werewolf. Brigitte escapes unscathed, and while Ginger is badly mauled, her wounds miraculously heal themselves: the first stage in a full-scale physical transformation.
So far, so good. Ginger Snaps sets up characters and mood with a dazzling assurance and visual flair, right from the opening in which the comfortable calm of suburban Ontario is shattered by the discovery of an eviscerated dog. As the camera swoops over the ravaged corpse into the black void of an empty kennel, the titles roll over a striking series of stills – it’s the photography project, with Ginger and Brigitte portraying themselves in various morbid poses of death and suicide.
Alienated from their schoolmates and their parents (Rogers, Jesse Moss) alike, they’ve retreat into a gothy two-handed sorority, blood sisters viewing the world with disgusted, deadpan bemusement. The script’s strong suit is the relationship between the girls, and Isabelle and Perkins make vivid, contrasting impressions: Ginger flinty, vivacious, sexually impatient, Brigitte – known as ‘B’ – a subordinate, cowed, bookish figure whose resemblance to north-o-the-border songstress Alanis Morrissette must be entirely intentional.
But the film-makers’ inexperience surfaces as the film’s tone shifts. Their initial spunkiness ebbs as they heads down increasingly derivative, repetitive avenues in search of shock effects – characters are forever cowering behind closed doors, waiting for the creature’s next effects-heavy attack. Plotting and pacing go out of the window – there’s some laborious business to do with a lycanthropia-antidote plant, grown by hunky drug-dealer/botanist Sam (Lemche): for no good reason, Brigitte tells him that she‘s the werewolf, not Ginger. Likewise, just as Rogers’ Pamela starts revealing some intriguing hidden depths, the movie doesn’t know what to do with her, then loses track of her completely during the cumbersome climax.
The main problem, however, is the fact that the structure of the movie works against its strengths – the characters of Ginger and Brigitte, and the performances of Isabelle and Perkins. The actresses are restricted – the terrific Isabelle has less and less to do as Ginger becomes less human, and some dodgy make-up during the lengthy transitional phase doesn’t help (we’re a long way from the disturbingly complex body-horror of Canuck maestro David Cronenberg). Perkins’ hyper-sensitive Brigitte, meanwhile, deserves better than having to spend the latter stages panting in mute terror. She is the focus of the movie’s final shot, however: a poetic, emotionally convincing (if self-consciously arty) tableau that goes some way towards making up for earlier waywardness.
But in the end Ginger Snaps must go down as a mild disappointment, the horror mechanics getting in the way of what should have been an unclassifiably quirky, unpredictable little character piece. Perhaps it would have been better to leave Ginger’s condition ambiguous – Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness and George Romero’s Martin are among the very best vampire films because it doesn’t matter whether or not their protagonists are actual bloodsuckers or just think that they are. And if the team behind Ginger Snaps had to go down the explicit genre route, they should have remembered that this kind of horror should always be as short as possible – like comedies, like reviews.
29th July, 2001
(seen Jul-25-01, UGC Middlesbrough)
by Neil Young
Back to Film Index