Monday, October 25, 2010

GINGER SNAPS (2000) Movie Review


Sisters and best friends Brigitte and Ginger Fitzgerald are inseparable teens who share everything together, and are never far from each others side. When the two decide to kidnap a fellow student's dog for attacking Brigitte, Ginger is attacked by a snarling monster in the woods. Was it just a big dog, or was it the small town's fabled beast, who kills and eats animals? The next day, Ginger's graphic wounds from the attack begin to rapidly heal, and Ginger starts to feel a primal change within her. She also finally gets her period, three years later than she should have.

When Ginger's changing attitudes begin to drive the two sisters apart, Brigitte begins to suspect that Ginger was attacked by a werewolf. Ginger's physical changes, from thick coarse hair and a small tail protruding from her back, solidify her fears. She turns to the local drug dealer and horticulturist for advise on a possible cure. Ginger's changes appear to be from a biological virus, and if it is a disease, then there must be a cure. The only question is whether an antidote can be found before Ginger completely snaps.

Horror, and to a slightly lesser degree science fiction, has always had the benefit to its writers to mean something else or to be seen as an allegory to a more serious or dangerous topic to discuss. The classic monsters of early horror cinema hid frail human emotions. Communist undertones were rampant in the 1950s, under the guise of cheap B-horror schlock. The "body horror" sub-genre was perfected by David Cronenberg and Shinya Tsukamoto to talk about contagious disease and the natural breakdown of the human body. Sometimes these topics can be overlooked, or not even noticed, by those who are just looking to be entertained or get a cheap scare. Sometimes they are seen by those with a keen perception. Sometimes however, the "real" topic of the film is so obvious that it almost becomes silly to hide it within another genre. Such is the tragic story about Ginger, written by Karen Walton and directed by John Fawcett.

Werewolves have always had the distinction of being a cover to talk about involuntary physical and mental changes or to serve as a juxtaposition to a spreading disease via blood. From THE WOLFMAN to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the main protagonists become lycanthropes against their will, and must deal with their permanent curse. Such is the case in GINGER SNAPS, were Ginger's affliction is merely a red herring for puberty and all the unbalanced hormones that come with it. For Ginger, the slowly gestating lycanthrope virus is just the same as her new found primal desires for boys and her period - she can not control her desires, and is willing to do anything to make it stop. Karen Walton's script, which is laden with the terrors of womanhood, gives a feminine injected boost to a genre that seems permanently bulls-eyed at 18-34 year old males. For the men in this film, their horror comes from their inability to dominate and control a woman either through verbal put-downs or archaic parenting, in the face of her female ferocity.

This is not to say that the film skimps on the actual werewolf story. It is quite the opposite in fact. Walton's biological take on the subject is well thought out, and it takes the entire film for Ginger to finally succumb to the virus. In between, make-up and creature effects designer Paul Jones (who previously worked on NIGHT BREED and the HELLRAISER series) slowly transforms actress Katharine Isabelle into an animalistic version of herself. The changes are very subtle, and his dedication to physical make up and latex, play integrally into the believability of Ginger's transformation. And when Ginger finally makes the full transformation, it is a violent and painful turn, recalling the transformation in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. The final creature, which again is a physical effect brought to life by an actor and animatronics, is a unique creature. And thanks to Jones' build up earlier on, one can easily make the connection, especially in the eyes of the creature, that this was once Ginger.

Under Fawcett's direction, the film gets a standard horror atmosphere as he brings his characters through dimly lit woods and drenching school hallways and the sisters' room with shadows, though there is nothing mind blowing in his approach to his suspense set-ups. During the attack sequences, the camera keeps with the characters witnessing the attack, or are hiding during the attack, rather than showing what is actually happening. Fawcett gives just enough of a glimpse to let the viewer fill in what is happening. Though this may have been done due to the budget constraints, Fawcett makes it work. What he doesn't skimp on is the aftermath, showing multiple half eaten dogs and the invariable dark-laced humor that follows during clean up, or Ginger's shredded victim when she has to protect her secret.

Upon its release in the US in early 2001, it was completely ignored as a theatrical release (IMDB states it was shown on *one* screen) and then unceremoniously dumped on DVD in 2003 in a full-screen only version. Fortunately for those with a little hunting power, in Canada (the Canadian government funded this film as part of their film program) there is an incredible DVD release. It is a shame too, because this film deserves a much wider audience than it has received. Two decent sequels rounded out the Ginger "trilogy" in 2004.


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