Monday, September 28, 2009

Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon (Sorry): Ginger Snaps

So I haven't seen Jennifer's Body yet.  Most likely I will--if you've ever read this blog, you know that I like Diablo Cody, haters be damned.  (And yes, I'm super excited about her involvement in the Sweet Valley High movie.  Far better it's helmed by someone who actually read the books when they were popular--and has a healthy sense of irony--than a clueless male Hollywood suit.)  Don't get me wrong: I've heard enough conflicting reviews of the film to want to form my own opinion.  I'm just waiting till it's been out for another week and I can use my discount card at a certain theatre chain and see it for $5. 

In the meantime, however, I thought I'd dedicate this week's post to another teen-girl horror comedy, a cult Canadian piece that's been recommended to me for years and whose title has resurfaced in the blogosphere amid the Jennifer's Body hype.  I'm talking of course about Ginger Snaps.

Sophomore year of college, I developed a weird fascination with Canadian accents.  Because I was an annoying theatre major, I'd even speak in one from time to time.  Probably had something to do with the Kids in the Hall reruns that aired on Comedy Central every afternoon.  That same year, I developed insomnia and discovered IMDb, leading to my bizarre talent for identifying obscure character actors.  So when I popped in Ginger Snaps, imagine my double dose of ecstasy: not only did the film contain "aboot"'s and "soh-ry"'s galore, BUT one of the two female leads is portrayed by Emily Perkins, best known to me as the surly women's clinic receptionist in Juno, who dryly informs Ellen Page of her affinity for boysenberry prophylactics.  Win-WIN!

The basic plot rundown: Brigitte (Perkins) and her sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) are intelligent and imaginative teenage girls with a long-running suicide pact and a fascination with acting out gory death scenarios in elaborate photo shoots.  Needless to say, their baggy clothes and goth sensibilities don't do them any favors when facing their classmates or their well-meaning but clueless mom (Mimi Rogers).  Meanwhile, a growling, toothy presence has made itself known in their small town by ravaging neighborhood dogs.  While sneaking out to play a prank, Ginger gets her period for the first time and seconds later has an unfortunate run-in with the creature whom Brigitte suspects is a lycanthrope.  And from then on, all hell breaks loose.

First impression?  I haven't seen a film this unapologetically bloody since The Descent (which I adored not only for its kickass freakiness but its 99% female cast).  If you don't even like to look at your own paper cuts, I'd suggest you avoid Ginger Snaps and its buckets of very realistic goo.  In fact, blood is almost its own character: it splatters, splashes, undulates and perhaps most terrifyingly, begins with an innocent trickle down Ginger's leg that starts the whole deliciously creepy ordeal.

My very favorite aspect of the film, though, is its unapologetic feminist intelligence.  Not only are two teenage girls front and center in the narrative, but they're far from passive and one-dimensional.  Brigitte grows gradually more horrified at the changes in her sister and former best friend, but for the majority of the film, Ginger is scared too: a burst of self-awareness that's not only rare in the horror genre but with adolescent female characters.  (Interesting, because one could argue that teenage girls have the most self-awareness of anyone.)  Also, Brigitte largely takes it upon herself to "cure" Ginger of her affliction--yes, she seeks assistance from cute drug dealer Sam, but when it comes to the final showdown, Brigitte is left on her own to make the ultimate decision of Ginger's fate.  And though Ginger commits a lot of bad, bad deeds as her transformation becomes complete, anyone who was tormented by mean girls in the past will heartily applaud when she kicks the queen bee's ass on the hockey field.

You don't have to be a bastion of literary criticism to know that Ginger's post-menstrual animorph from sullen teen to deadly werewolf is an allegory for puberty.  All it takes is a rush of blood and a doggie attack and Ginger becomes unrecognizable to Brigitte: mysterious pains, unwanted hair in unmentionable places, and scariest of all, a sexual magnetism and intense aggression.  Ginger alternately relishes and loathes these changes, but is increasingly powerless to stop them.  And the cliffhanger ending ultimately leaves Brigitte with a complex choice--to eviscerate her destructive sister but ultimately face life alone, or to join Ginger's uncontrollable, hirsute ranks and forever be regarded as a freak by society.  Not only do the cons outweigh the pros in either scenario, but viewers--particularly those with ovaries--know the truth: once your body bleeds for five days and doesn't die, there really is no going back.

Ginger Snaps is unique.  Girls who want more than boys and take care of each other, symbolism as pervasive as the gobs o' goo, and plenty of dark laughs along the way.  (And Canadians!)

Definitely not your mama's horror movie.


  1. Auuuugh! I'm so glad you did this. I LOVE Ginger Snaps. It's one of my fave all time movies, and I just love everything about it. Incidentally, Katherine Isabelle was in Goosebumps, It Came from Beneath the Sink. Makes sense. They shot in Canada.

    Have you seen Ginger Snaps 2: Ginger Snaps Back or the third one? I didn't like number three but I LOVED the sequel. Truly brilliant.

  2. I was really obsessed with this movie post-high school, it was really cool! I love that Emily Perkins was also in She's the Man, hehe. I loved the Ginger Snaps: The Beginning the best though, you should definitely see that one and the sequel too.

  3. I'm so glad that "Jennifer's Body" is stirring up some new interest in this cult classic. This film is very underrated and Emily Perkins is the best ever!