Movie review – Ginger Snaps

12/15/2009 at 9:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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A couple of months ago, I had my first taste of so-called feminist horror cinematography, in the form of Teeth.

That first taste of feminist horror tasted bad. Bad enough so that I was almost totally turned off by the notion that such a thing as “Feminist horror” could exist. Teeth has gotten mixed reviews and reactions around the internet; I thought that having vulvar pain myself I’d somehow be able to sympathize with the main character, or at least get a kick out of the revenge aspect. But it turned out to be too violent, nonsensical & over-the-top campy for me. Teeth didn’t work out; I didn’t like it, I don’t recommend it.

While I was checking out what other people were saying about Teeth, I learned about another feminist horror film that was supposed to be very good – Ginger Snaps, a werewolf movie with feminist themes. Werewolves? What, like from Teen Wolf & Twilight? I filed Ginger Snaps in the back of my mind and figured I’d get around to it eventually… That time is now.

It’s not Halloween season anymore, which is a shame, since part of the film takes place on Halloween. It would fit right in with a monster mash-up movie fest. But on the other hand, we do have Ginger Snaps‘ anthesis playing in US theaters right now – Twilight: New Moon. Vampires vs. Werewolves… a movie & book series criticized for the way it depicts the main female character, vs. a movie which merits a feminist critique for different reasons. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of either vampires or werewolves, actually. I could either go see the Vampire movie right now which has a few shirtless werewolves and themes of abstinence in it (or at least in the book series it’s based off of,) or I could see a werewolf movie that centers the female characters as one of them goes through menarche & puberty.

Welp New Moon isn’t available on Netflix yet, so we’ll go with Ginger Snaps. Werewolves win this round…
And, it turns out, werewolves win my approval too. This… is a surprisngly good movie. I… liked this.

****SPOILERS****

Ginger Snaps takes place in the town of Bailey Downs during early Fall. Some weird shit has been going down in town – pets & strays have been getting mangled and killed by an unknown beast. This is the setting in which we meet 16-year old red-haired Ginger Fitzgerald and her 15-year old sister Brigitte. Ginger is clearly the dominant sister, with a protective streak when it comes to Brigitte. They’re very close – they share a bedroom and have taken a vow to be together forever: “Out by sixteen or dead on the scene, but together forever.” They rely on each other, and I suppose they have to – their parents, Pamela & Henry are very laissez faire. I actually like the girls’ mother, Pamela – she seems mellow & respectful of her daughter’s boundaries, and is willing to answer their questions without shaming them for asking in the first place. But Pam & her husband seem distracted by marital problems (Pam mentions counseling at one point in the film,) and high school is a very rough time to live through. The girls’ don’t have many other friends to talk to, so they turn inward. Their interests include all things goth, trash-talking their peers and taking staged death photos of each other. (For this reason, the movie may be triggering to people with a history of self-injury.)

Neither Ginger nor Brigitte has started menstruation as of the beginning of the film, although Ginger has been experiencing some recent cramps & discomfort. She has also started developing secondary sex charactersitics, including larger breasts relative to Brigitte. Several boys at the girls’ school have been eyeing the sisters and harassing them. During gym class one fine day, Brigitte and Ginger dis another rival student, Trina, who then targets Brigitte during a field hockey game. This time, Ginger fails to protect her younger sister. Trina pushes Brigitte onto the ground and into a dog corpse, another victim of the Beast of Bailey Downs.
How no one else noticed a dog corpse lying in the middle of a gym field before that, is beyond me.
The girls decide to exact revenge that night by sneaking out and hurting or killing Trina’s pet, a big burly dog, then staging the scene to make it look like the Beast of Bailey Downs killed it.

While the girls are making their way to Trina’s house, they encountered yet another pet corpse. This seems like it will work out well, as they can use it to scare Trina into thinking her dog has been killed. While trying to move the body, Brigitte notices blood on Ginger’s leg. Ginger hadn’t been feeling well all day, and the blood comes from her first period. It comes as a surprise to both girls; Brigitte even lets out an “Ew.”

Ginger’s menarche just happens to fall on the night of a full moon.

Unfortunately, upon noticing the menstrual blood, Ginger is immediately attacked by the Beast of Bailey Downs, perhaps attracted by the blood. The monster drags her into a wooded area. Brigitte and Ginger eventually escape and make it back to their house, but their parents aren’t there, and Ginger is unwilling to go to the hospital to treat her injuries. Meanwhile, during their escape, the Beast is struck by a passing van and dies. (Werewolves in this universe are not so strong that only silver bullets can kill them.)
Back at the house, Ginger’s wounds have already begun to heal remarkably fast. She’s clearly distraught, and still dealing with menstrual pain, but trudges on to school the next day anyway.

It soon becomes clear that since the night of menarche and the animal attack, Ginger has been going through some changes. Brigitte worries for her elder sister, who starts acting much more aggressive – in every respect. Ginger becomes more confrontational in general and develops an interest in the boys at school. She is attracted to one in particular, Jason, and spends less time with Brigitte. In an effort to relieve her heavy menstrual cramps and bleeding, she even tries drugs for the first time (In this case, marijuana.)
It just so happens that Ginger’s first drug use takes place in the same van that killed the real Beast of Bailey Downs. The van’s owner, Sam, and Brigitte know something is happening in town with all the animal killings and then the Beast’s death. Since Sam is the only other person Brigitte is able to connect with, and because he does not reject her fears as absurd, (after all, he saw the Beast with his own eyes the night he struck with his van while driving,) she begins bonding with him while they research werewolves. Brigitte tells Sam that she is the one who was bitten by the Beast, in order to cover for her sister. Sam & Brigitte eventually decide that the best way to cure werewolfism is to use a dose of Monk’s Hood plant, which grows only in spring, and so isn’t available even in Sam’s greenhouse.

It was somewhat ambiguous at first, whether Ginger’s personality and physical changes were due to normal hormonal shifts associated with going through puberty, stress, or whether the changes were due to the beast attack. Ginger and Brigitte get some feedback from a school nurse, who schools them on what to expect when you’re going through puberty, and Ginger seems assured that what she’s going through is within the realm of normal. (Appearantly the girls’ public school did not include comprehensive sex education.) The nurse also offers condoms, since Ginger can now become pregnant if she has sex. (This would have been an interesting sub-plot! Pregnant she-werewolf transformation! But the directors didn’t take it in that direction.)

But then Ginger’s body begins to change. We see Ginger’s razor is covered not just with ordinary body hair, but with tufts of fur. In fact, she’s growing quite a bit more body hair where none was before – particularly around the animal wounds she endured. As the days go by, Brigitte finds that Ginger is even growing a tail. Of course, that’s not a change usually associated with menstruation. Additionally, over the course of the film, (it spans about a month,) Ginger’s hair goes from red to white.

Against Brigitte’s advice and the school nurse’s warning, Ginger and Jason have unprotected sex, which winds up infecting Jason with the same werewolfism she is infected with. (He does not realize anything is wrong until he urinates blood and subsequently becomes more aggressive.) Ginger returns from her first sexual encounter visibly distraught, and Brigitte finds out the real reason why – Ginger killed a neighbor’s little pet dog on the way home. The sex wasn’t great, but it wasn’t upsetting in and of itself either. What was more upsetting was the uncontrollable urge to tear living things to pieces.

Although Ginger has held it together up until then, she reveals the fear she’s going through while these strange changes are happening to her body. The only thing that satisfies her is killing, as in the case of the little neighbor dog. As the film progresses, Ginger’s bloodlust only grows, until at one point she compares the pleasure of killing to the pleasure of masturbation: “It feels so… good, Brigitte. It’s like touching yourself. You know every move… right on the fucking dot. And after, see fucking fireworks. Supernovas. I’m a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything.”

Brigitte tries to help her sister, piercing her with a silver ring – a gift from Sam. It’s not meant to be a purity ring in the sense of abstinence, but rather in the hopes of purifying Ginger’s body of the infection.
It’s not a bad idea, but because this isn’t a typical Hollywood variety werewolf, the ring has no effect.

Brigitte also helps Ginger tape down her tail in the morning before going to school. Brigitte is growing up, and is becoming a protector of her elder sister.

But Brigitte is not fully grown yet, and she is still the target of other girls at school. The girls’ rival, Trina, continues to bully Brigitte. Ginger reacts with rage, attacking Trina and geting in trouble at school. Later, Trina shows up at the girls’ house, claiming that her dog has been stolen by Ginger. (The viewer never finds out if this is true.) Trina and Ginger get into a major fight at the house, and Trina dies.
She did not die by Ginger’s hand directly on camera – she tripped and hit her head on a countertop.
The girls quickly act to hide the body, leaving only two fingers out in the yard by accident. While burying the body, Ginger bitterly reflects on the kinds of woman one can be – “Slut, bitch, tease, or the virgin next door.”

Things are getting serious now, with a human death involved and Ginger’s increasingly aggressive behavior. The girls make plans to flee, but their plans are quickly derailed. Luckily, Pamela has brought home a boquet of Monk’s Hood plants from a local craft shop. At the first opportunity, which happens to be the morning of Halloween, Brigitte locks Ginger into the bathroom, partly to protect the public, and to protect Ginger from herself. Brigitte brings the plants to Sam’s greenhouse and they make a dose of anti-werewolf serum. Sam reveals that he knew all along that Ginger was really the bitten girl, not Brigitte.

On the way home, Brigitte runs into Jason again. He, too, is becoming more aggressive, and his looks are changing as well – he looks like a mess. Brigitte tests the anti-werewolf serum on him, which works. As soon as he is injected, his aggressive behavior stops and he wanders off. Monk’s Hood is safe to use Ginger.

Meanwhile, the girls’ mother has discovered Trina’s disembodied two fingers left out in the yard from earlier. At first, she dismisses the fingers as props used by the girls during thier photoshoots. But just in case, she seals them in tupperware… she’s clearing getting suspicoius. Her suspicions are confirmed when she unburies Trina’s body in the shed. She goes looking for her daughters.

But where is Ginger? She escaped from the house and went to school, where she killed a teacher. This is the first human death at Ginger’s hands that we know of; it is not the last. Brigitte finds her sister at school and offers to help her by volunteering to help clean the body up. But before Brigitte can get started, Ginger kills another victim, the school janitor. At this point, Ginger is all but lost. She is enjoying killing so much that she wouldn’t even want to be cured anymore. And she knows that if she was returned to a normal human state, she would have to face the consequences of her actions – she’d surely go to jail.
The girls get into a major verbal fight. The viewer is starting to learn that Ginger hasn’t just been over protective of her sister while they were growing up – she’s been manipulative, too. I’m wondering if Ginger’s alpha personality is the reason Brigitte is so introverted. For if the girls had no one else to turn to but themselves, and Brigitte was always expected to follow her sister’s orders, then she would have been stifled for her whole life.
Ginger leaves the scene, intent on killing Sam. Brigitte takes off after her.

Pam, who has been out looking for the girls, catches up with Brigitte. Pamela knows that Ginger is the dominant sister, and that Trina’s body was probably her doing. Still, Pamela loves her daughters & is willing to sacrifice everything to protect them both, even if it means leaving her husband & burning down their house. But first, they need to find Ginger, and go to Sam’s greenhouse to find her. Brigitte leaves her mother behind.

By now Ginger’s face is almost completely unrecognizeable and has clear animal features. Her hair is totally white, and when she reveals her body to Sam in an attempt to seduce him, she is covered in scar tissue. It’s like her body is just wasting away. Her body was changing gradually, but, perhaps because it’s been about a month since she was first bit, the transformation is accelerating. (I didn’t catch if Halloween takes place during a full moon for this film. That would have been cool if it did.)

Brigitte catches her sister before Ginger is able to kill Sam (but he is seriously injured.) Brigitte even sacrifices herself to save Sam, and hopefully, her sister. She cuts her hand and applies it to Ginger’s, passing on the werewolf infection to herself. Brigitte tells Ginger, “You wrecked everything for me that isn’t about you.” Now both of them will need the Monk’s Hood cure, which is available back at the girls’ house. Sam knocks Ginger unconscious and loads her up into the back of his van. By now her transformation is almost complete & we see glimpses of her changing body. This part looks like it was done good ol’ fashioned costumes & puppet work, not CGIs. The effect is mixed – it looks like the transformation is tangible, but the monster costume looks fake & rubbery. The wolf mask isn’t able to express emotion, it’s frozen in a snarl.

Sam & Brigitte arrive safely at the house, but Ginger, now fully transformed into a werewolf, escapes into the house. Naturally, Sam & Brigitte follow, hoping to get the Monk’s Hood medicine prepared.
For some reson, although the house clearly has electricity available, no one thinks to turn the lights on to make finding Ginger easier.
Brigitte and Sam agree to lure Ginger out then inject her with the medicine, but Sam is attacked and dragged away by Ginger.
The next scenes are the climax of the movie. Brigitte follows the blood trail to Sam, still alive but not for much longer, and Ginger. Ginger does not attack her sister. Instead, she just watches to see what Brigitte does… Brigitte tastes Sam’s blood, but rejects it. She is unwilling to meet the same fate as her elder sister, and unwilling to die. This enrages Ginger, so she kills Sam. Brigitte escapes to their old bedroom and pulls a knife out of their dresser drawer to defend herself with. She has a syrine full of the Monk’s Hood medication, but before she has a chance to use it on her sister, Ginger attacks.
And impales herself on Brigitte’s knife.
As Ginger lays dying on the ground, Brigitte looks around their room at all the photos & knicknacks they’ve collected over the years. She approaches Ginger’s body and stays with it until Ginger finally stops breathing. It’s a sad sequence… they were very close sisters for their whole lives, but in the span of about a month, everything fell apart.

And that’s the way the movie ends.

We do not know what happens to Brigitte or her family after this. I hope that Brigitte would have used the medication on herself, to cure the werewolfism before it got severe. (There is a sequel, and a prequel to this film, so I suppose I could find out if I wanted. I heard the other movies in the series aren’t as good though.)

The film was made in 2000, and it shows – it looks great on DVD, good sound quality, decent music. There aren’t any shoddy early-generation CGI effects. CGI, on the one hand allows for more detail, but often sacrifices a feeling of realism. Everything looked like it was done with costumes & puppets where needed, but at times the costumes are stiff.

The dialog is believable. It’s got a lot of cursing, but I recall my own teenage years and the number of f-bombs sounds about right. There is a lot of dark humor.

All of the characters have personalities that are consistent from scene to scene, which is an improvement over Teeth. Because the characters all have clear personalities, it’s easy to emphasize with what they’re going through – particularly Brigitte’s anguish over her sister drifting away.
But Ginger is scared too – her body is changing, and not in the expected way. While she tries to keep her fears under control, at times they bubble up to the surface and she breaks down trying to maintain a brave face. Even as she starts exercising autonomy, she is losing control of herself to the infection. Yet she retains some memory of who she truly is up to the very end. Ginger, in wolf form, attacks Brigitte, but only after Brigitte finally broke free from her elder shadow’s sister – Brigitte rejected her.

Although I have a sister myself, I found I could not personally relate to these sisters’ relationship. My elder sister has always been significantly my elder, and we struggle to have any connection at all. There was no race to menarche or lording her sexual maturity over my childishness. I was a child. She was a teenager. End of story. She was older, she had decision-making authority – or at least, she would have, if she had ever babysat me. I never needed to clean up any messes she may or may not have been making, because if she was making any at all, she kept them hidden.
It’s always been that way. I have never had any sisterly relationship to lose.
Yet because I am on the outside of that relationship – I paid more attention to the movie and enjoyed the challenging dynamic between the two.

It’s not clear whether Ginger would have still drifted apart from her sister so much had she not been attacked by a werewolf. It’s possible – Ginger holds menarche over Brigitte’s head several times, lording it over her younger sister as a sign of greater maturity and authority. Some of my own girlfriends did this within our own circle of friends once we started entering puberty. But if the attack had never occured, Ginger would probably have not acted so aggressive & dangerous. As it happened in the film, Brigitte had to clean up Ginger’s murderous messes. Perhaps, in the absence of the werewolf attack, Brigitte would have had to clean up different kinds of messes for her sister.

The girls are understandably frustrated, living in a suburb with few outlets for creativity and activity – and what few outlets there are, are regulated either by their own peers & rivals, or by adults. The girls’ most private & creative outlet is their simulated self-injury and death photography, but when they present their work to a classroom, their teacher takes offense.

I was very impressed with this film. It’s enjoyable because it’s well done overall. It’s not always scary – there’s plenty of blood & gore, but it’s more of a drama than a spooky film. You don’t have to watch it around Halloween to enjoy it. It’s probably worth a rent from the local video store or Netflix next time you have a craving for a good drama, or something with a hint of feminism.

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1 Comment »

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  1. I love this movie. I’m glad you enjoyed it too!


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