Published May 01, 2001Smart and engaging, "Ginger Snaps" is a welcome addition to the world of the teen horror film. It manages to avoid both the trappings of the exploitative titillation fests that used to go hand in hand with teen horror flicks and ultra-clever, self-referential style that, thanks to the "Scream" series, reinvigorated the genre in recent years. Instead, the film centres around its two lead characters, inseparable teenage sisters Ginger and Brigitte, as they struggle with coming of age as death-obsessed misfits in an oppressively normal suburban environment. Their struggle is complicated when a mysterious attack leaves Ginger with symptoms that slowly transform her into a werewolf (and not the cute, cuddly Michael J. Fox in "Teen Wolf" kind of werewolf either, but one consumed by malice and bloodlust for that high school student body that excluded and mocked her and her sister).
The idea behind the werewolf transformation cleverly portrays it as a disease that exacerbates the usual teen hormonal overdrive. Ginger starts to get hair growing in strange places, burgeoning sexual desires (the disease itself is transmitted through sexual contact), and the overwhelming urge to tear things to pieces. While this is not unlike the experience of puberty for many of us, Ginger gets to take things one step further and literally eat that bitchy girl in gym class.
As a Canadian film shot in Toronto's soulless suburbs, "Ginger Snaps" captures the feeling of the stifling generic upper-middle class high school scene remarkably well. Unlike most Hollywood teen movies, the popular students don't come off at all glamorous or fabulous but rather have an unremarkable look of conformity and normalcy to them. Even the sisters have a frumpy wardrobe of sombre, semi-gothic clothes that look as if they are trying to cull together a dark and disenfranchised aesthetic from the clothes their mom bought them at the mall. The endless dreary subdivisions of Etobicoke, Scarborough, and Brampton are melded into the mythical suburb Bailey Downs, creating the perfect backdrop for evil activity to flourish.
Katherine Isabelle's Ginger is appropriately wild and aggressive as she suffers through and eventually embraces her new body. Emily Perkins as the shy and awkward Brigitte is really compelling to watch as she tries to help her sister while at the same time trying to escape her domineering shadow. The small supporting cast are also quite great, especially Kris Lemche as Sam, the loner boy and amateur botanist who Brigitte turns to for help, and Mimi Rogers who gives an hilarious performance as the girls' over the top suburban mom.
The ideas in this film are clever, as is the large majority of the writing and the direction. It doesn't quite all come together in the end to a completely satisfying conclusion, but there's more than enough good stuff along the way to make it fun and worthwhile.