Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #649
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: May 11, 2001
Sub-Genre: Werewolf/Body Horror
Country of Origin: Canada
Box Office: $572,781
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: John Fawcett
Producers: Karen Lee Hall, Steve Hoban
Screenplay: Karen Walton, John Fawcett
Special Effects: Paul Jones, Brock Jolliffe
Visual Effects: John Furniotis
Cinematography: Thom Best
Score: Mike Shields
Editing: Brett Sullivan
Studios: Copperheart Entertainment, Water Pictures, Motion International
Distributor: Motion International
Stars: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers, Jesse Moss, Danielle Hampton, John Bourgeois, Peter Keleghan, Christopher Redman, Jimmy MacInnis, Joey Paul Gowdy, Lindsay Leese, Wendii Fulford, Lucy Lawless
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Beautiful “Joydrop”
 Godhead “Inside You”
 Junkie XL “Love Like Razorblade”
 Mike Shields “Ginger’s Lament”
Adolescence can be a bitch on heat. It’s all too easy to look back through those rose-tinted spectacles and recall happier times without a solitary care in the world but what of the deep-seated trauma that our selective memories archive? I don’t know about you but I was more than a little freaked out by the sudden sprouting of unfamiliar hair in areas it appeared to serve no purpose and the strange metamorphosis certain body parts went through seemingly overnight. Then there were the incessant urges and they were no picnic for a late bloomer such as I; as the opposite sex had little to no interest in assisting me to act upon them. Many an evening I spent howling at the moon and the melancholia far outweighed any teenage kicks that were up for grabs; at least until I finally grew into my skin a full five years tardy. The school yard can be a decidedly unforgiving locale and I don’t envy anyone currently sitting on the cusp of puberty.
Canadian filmmaker John Fawcett’s sophomore feature, Ginger Snaps, casts its eye over such testing times and chooses to approach this thorny topic metaphorically, masquerading as a creature feature like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s not the first movie to use lycanthropy as a tool to tackle virgin springtide, Gene Fowler Jr.’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Rod Daniel’s Teen Wolf both did so long before it ever beared its teeth. However, it is the first to give a female perspective the old college try, and provide hairy palms with an accompanying manicure. Fawcett goes to great lengths to underpin his tale with sociological and psychological implications, using deliciously inky satire to appeal to a teenage audience, while gifting us a multiplex friendly werewolf flick that has stood the test of time remarkably well.
For anyone unaware, the ginger snap is a cookie and also relates to the loss of one’s self-control. For the outcast Fitzgerald sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), restraint is the only way and they have absolutely no inclination towards following the rest of the flock. The girls reside in a colorless Ontario suburb where conformity seems the only way to get ahead but there’s a complete disconnect with regards to “fitting in”.
Dolled up to the treble sixes in thrift store cast-offs and harboring a fixation with death that infringes on fetish, they’ve made a solemn pact to resist any urges as an unbendable collective and ultimately croak the very same way. The world still spins on its axle around them, but Ginger and Brigitte oppose each futile revolution and obtain their shits and giggles at the expense of anyone dumb enough to buy into the whole social acceptance gig.
At primary glance, it really couldn’t appear any more ill-fitting a match. You see, the flame-haired elder of the two is only ever a solitary makeover away from what sex starved seniors refer to as a “hottie” and very much aware of the second and third glances she receives in the school yard every recess. Her younger sister, on the other hand, is a Jane as penny plain as can be found on this terrain.
Dressing down and dowdy, her lank hair mopes about her shoulders like blackened snot and her stony-faced smile is as stunted as her assets. A “nottie” to the very bones, Brigitte’s best hope of misplacing her virginity any time soon apparently hinges more on the willingness of canines than the inebriation of alpha males. While Ginger oppresses puberty playfully, little sis simply hasn’t been paid a visit yet as her ova can’t even be bothered to budge.
Going back to mutts momentarily, Brigitte’s quadrupedal suitors appear to be drying up at an alarming rate, and sales of premium dog chow are down over 50% for the quarter. Something hairy lurks within the undergrowth; biding its time to strike with supersonic speed each time the moon is at its fullest. Naturally the cookie-cutter inhabitants of Bailey Downs are starting to fret and a townwide curfew has been politely enforced to ensure no further unpleasentries play out.
Even more naturally, the Fitzgerald girls give not a fuck if it’s flying about such commie regime and instead do the precise opposite to following procedure. Alas, Ginger has involuntarily succumbed to her heaving body’s urges and the menstruation trail is about to march those snapping jaws directly to her ginger snatch.
Talk about a close shave. Actually that’s something of a sore subject at present, as ever since that moonlight ambush, Ginger’s trusty Mach 3 is no longer trimming the hedge so to speak. Moreover, fur is harvesting in the most uncanny of crop circles, and that’s not to mention the wagging spinal cord becoming ever more troublesome to tuck down the back of her period pants.
Meanwhile, Brigitte is growing increasingly fretful with every fitful outburst from her personal hero as there’s evidently more to ovulation than a one-way bloodbath. Formerly as thick as heavy-set thieves, the chasm between the pair is beginning to gape and Ginger’s full moon-fueled cycle is cause for considerable concern.
Mercifully you can always count on your friendly neighborhood drug dealer to know a thing to the power of two about botany and Sam MacDonald (Kris Lemche) develops a curious interest in this particular growth spurt. His association to Brigitte may be strictly platonic, but he’s willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to assist Brigitte out of her pickle and now bats solely for Team Fitzgerald.
This is much to the annoyance of high school mean girl, Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton), who views this fresh threat to her turf as any territorial trollop would, given their public standing. If only she knew the truth. You see, it doesn’t take much to make this Ginger snap, and those cutting insults are unlikely to secure her any slack by the third crippling wave of stomach cramps in short succession.
Also of note here, albeit tertiary as parents just don’t understand, are Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald, Pamela (Mimi Rogers) and Henry (John Bourgeois). Their white picket fence may have just received a fresh lick of undercoat, but that’s not to say they’ve got the vaguest clue how to keep their own house in order. Henry hides away behind a vacant gaze of indifference, while his overbearing beloved tries her darnedest to persuade her girls to act appropriately at all times, while celebrating the fact that one of them appears well on the path to being “all grown up”. If only she knew that her eldest was such a heavy bleeder.
It isn’t too long before Ginger’s urge to feed becomes too all-encompassing to ignore, and all the while, the population of Bailey Downs is being steadily whittled down. However Fawcett leaves it until last knockings to veer off into more familiar territory and replace Karen Walton’s whip-smart dialogue with the customary mainstream urgency. Let it be known that he doesn’t cop out and is merely aware of the unnatural progression of a piece of werewolf lore such as this.
I’ve been a great admirer of sultry siren Isabelle for some time now, and as the titular terrorizer in The Soska Twins’ American Mary, it finally felt like someone had sussed out how to play to her unique set of strengths. She is exceptional here, bubbling over with pent-up sexual desire and never anything whatsoever less than impish. That said, the changes she undergoes entail far more than accentuation of her personality, there’s a battle raging on for possession of her soul and she happens to look rather ravishing doused in melancholia.
As for Perkins, well her task is perhaps the most challenging as Brigitte has clearly spent her youth languishing in her big sister’s shadow, and for 108 minutes here, struggles obstinately to break that curse. Her personal journey is perhaps most critical to our investment as she is forced to assume second fiddle to her attention seeking other, and true to form, keeps the histrionics to a bare minimum. Any screaming is largely on mute and plays out behind a veil of artificial calm that can barely contain her mounting angst. Perkins showcases this beautifully.
While Ginger Snaps garnered no end of critical acclaim upon its unveiling at the turn of the millennium, there was precious little in the way of studio support and it was only ever granted a limited theatrical run-out. Despite any hardship, it went on to spawn both a follow-up and origin-based prequel, amassing a significant cult following in the process. The werewolf sub-genre is historically tricky to nail with any true sense of conviction and only a handful of modern reiterations of its vintage themeology have managed to do it any justice.
Where Fawcett’s film succeeds in being memorable is its refusal to eat at the same table as the rest of its contemporary kind, much like the Fitzgerald sisters themselves. Instead it works on being relatable to anyone found wanting with regards to public acceptance and earns its audience’s howls on its own exclusive terms. Growing pains are par for the course as we blunder from one generation to the next and it’s to the immense credit of all involved here that Ginger Snaps winds up anything but.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement : 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Ginger and Brigitte’s fascination with the grotesque equates to numerous instances of grue-soaked relish although Fawcett keeps his dog on a short leash for the most part. The all-important transformation, when it comes, may only be observed fleetingly, but remains respectful both to its origins and to the short attention span of the demographic it is looking to appeal to.
For the Pelt-Nuzzlers: Isabelle would be required to go full werewolf before I’d have any power to resist dry humping her leg and there’s little in the text-book to convince me otherwise. It’s a joy to watch her in season and she damn well knows it. Indeed, should 108 minutes of learning Ginger’s gurning and yearning not leave you sporting a brace of hairy palms, then one can only assume you’ve already been spayed.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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