Worth A Look: 25.35%
Pretty Bad: 4.23%
Total Crap: 2.82%
4 reviews, 47 user ratings
by David Hollands
You can’t watch a film like David Cronenberg’s The Fly and not get some kind of reaction. Cronenberg in undoubtedly one of the masters of “creep under your skin” cinema, and his vision of The Fly certainly proved that to the hilt. Without being gory just for the sake of doing so, Cronenberg instead used the disgusting stuff as a way for the audience to get inside the main protagonist’s head. It worked to full effect. I thought I would never experience a movie as powerful or as frightening as The Fly again. I was dead wrong.Ginger Snaps begins with Brigette and Ginger, two teenages prone to staging their own fake suicides. One night, the two are out pulling a prank on Trina, the local sl*t at their high school, when Ginger suddenly gets her first period. The two are about to head home when Ginger is savagely attacked by something that smelt the fresh blood. Brigette and Ginger escape, but the nightmare is far from over. The very night of the occurrence, Ginger’s wounds are beginning to heel. Ginger herself begins to go through a frightening transformation, as she is slowly turning into a werewolf.
"One of the best werewolf films ever made."
The film succeeds for many different reasons, and one of those is the fantastic script by Karen Walton. Walton never pulls any punches or relies on cheap situations to tell her story. What is even more impressive is the fact that this isn’t so much a werewolf movie as it is a crazy tale of teenagers growing up. Such a parallel is extremely interesting, considering how no other werewolf movie ever truly explored it in this way. Instead of becoming mystical, the werewolf legend is actually turned into a disease, one that is transmitted like a sickness, and one which gradually transforms its victim until the day when the change fully takes over. The film, although definitely treading the water of countless other werewolf pics, actually becomes soothingly original because of this terrific story point.
Walton does use some gory stuff in her screenplay, and the picture did have the risk of turning into a pure schlock epic. However, it is a testament to director John Fawcett for being able to pull off all the disgusting stuff and make it so utterly disturbing. Much of the violence occurs through Ginger’s transformation, making the gore almost seem as if it was coming from within, a very creepy notion indeed. There is a scene about halfway through Ginger Snaps when Ginger returns home late in the evening after a night of sex. Everything in the room is dark, and the audience can’t quite make her out. Brigette wakes up and tries to talk to her sister, but Ginger runs into the bathroom. When Brigette enters, she discovers her sister vomiting in the toilet and covered in blood. Fawcett never allows us to see exactly what she’s puking up, and instead leaves that to the audiences’ imagination. We know that she is clearly puking up organs that she devoured earlier that night, but by not showing the gore and instead relying on sounds, Fawcett has made the scene even more disturbing than it probably would have been had all the gory stuff been shown.
Even more interesting is the fact that Fawcett’s choice in only showing the gore when it is supposed to be shown actually helps the audience to get into Brigette’s head. This movie is truly about how poor Brigette deals with her sister’s transformation, and Fawcett’s direction beautifully demonstrates that. For example, nearly everything is discovered by Brigette in this movie. Brigette discovers the tail, Brigette witnesses the vomiting, Brigette sees every step of her sister’s transformation into a dangerous creature. In the above-mentioned bathroom scene, the fact that we never see the gore could be taken as seeing the events through Brigette’s point of view. Based on where Brigette was standing in the bathroom, she wouldn’t have been able to see the organs and guts pouring out of Ginger’s mouth. Also, the only other times we really see any violence is when Brigette witnesses it; everything from when the werewolf who attacked them is hit by a truck all the way to when Ginger, now fully transformed, murders one of her new-found friends. This helps the audience become fully attached to the character; we can identify with Brigette because she has to witness this terrible ordeal her sister is going through, and we can identify with Ginger because we feel how much Brigette loves her.
It really helps that the script smartly handles the transformation. Nothing is ever paced too quickly, and transformation leaps do not occur. Ginger goes through subtle changes throughout the picture. Not once are the transformations ever made obvious by a musical cue or a silly camera angle to show the audience that they have definitely occurred. Instead, the camera simply shoots the scene from normal angles, and has the characters quickly glance down at the transformations and react nervously but entirely realistically. One would hardly even notice that Ginger’s teeth start to shift into fang-like jagged edges, nor would they see that her hair is starting to show white streaks. Just like every other character in the film, we would simply assume that she dyed it. Because Fawcett has presented the transformations in such an intelligent matter, we can also believe that no one else would really notice it. This gives the story credibility.
The puberty angle in this film is certainly interesting, and although the concept was ever-so-slightly explored in Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, this is the true film that links the two. After being bitten, it is clear that Ginger is starting to become an adult of sorts. The day after she is bitten, and has received her first period, she changes her wardrobe, starts to strut around for the guys, and craves sex. The werewolf virus infecting her would seem to be representing her raging hormones. Plus, not only does she change in that way, but she also becomes more moody, more intolerant to things people say. She becomes angry when something annoys her, much like any teenager would while going through puberty. Ginger discovers the werewolf changes on her body much like any teen would discover new hairs in strange places, and changes in their bodily form. That’s also one of the things that appears to have been handled quite well.
The werewolf attacks Ginger at the exact moment when she has her first period, thus making the creature puberty itself. It attacks her, but doesn’t kill her, much like puberty actually does come to think of it, and leaves its mark for her to bare. Really, after the original onslaught of terror and confusion, Ginger seems to become braver and more in control of her sexuality. She also becomes selfish, having sex and trying to have sex even though she knows that sex will infect others with the werewolf curse. I suppose the selfish-ness can be seen as a mirror for any teenager’s emotions when going through puberty, including how self-centered some can get.
The film also has something to say about the dangers of unprotected sex, although Fawcett doesn’t resort to that old “have sex and you die” thing. Oh no, in this film, having unprotected sex leads to dire consequences. Ginger has sex, and the male becomes infected. Although his transformation is clearly lycanthropic, there is still that feeling of an STI present, as the guy starts growing sores, and becomes pretty dishevelled in his appearance. Not only that, but his transformation resembles the effects of male testosterone, as he has white heads all over his face.
This film is also very depressing. Much like Cronenberg’s The Fly, there is only a glimmer of hope to be found: the cure to lycanthropy. Yet even this seems to be slowly stamped out at every turn. Brigette sees that it works, and in trying to get it Ginger, she simply fails at almost every turn. Things keep getting in the way, and as Brigette becomes more desperate to cure her sister, so does the audience. We can feel for Brigette, and the film has us on the edge of our seats when the conclusion roles around, because we actually find ourselves uttering “Come on, come on…” and not in that way as if we want the movie to just end. Because we have invested in these characters and have come to like them, the whole conclusion just takes on another level of excellence.
We eventually come to realise that Ginger and Brigette’s predicament is quite hopeless, and Fawcett does too, providing an unbearably sad ending to an already extremely depressing movie. However, the ending is touching rather than annoying, because the two sisters are indeed united once again, and the depressing ending never seems to come out of left field. We can see it coming, but there is still that single shred of hope lingering to keep us in suspense. The emotions are so powerful in fact, that I found myself in tears when the final shot came around. It is a real emotional dozy, as all the emotions just swamp the audience there. It’sheart-breaking; the best part is that it never feels melodramatic.
****END SPOILER WARNING****
While I do praise this film very highly, there are a few moments when something feels stupid or contrived. For example, the cure for lycanthropy is monkshood. The sisters don’t know where to get some, and then the mother just happens to have bought a batch of it. Plus, there may be a few times when coincidence intrudes with Brigette getting the cure to Ginger, such as her mother discovering a dead body at the most convinient moment, or how the parents are never at home at critical intervals. However, these minor caveats certainly don’t intrude on the movie enough to bring it down in quality.
John Fawcett has a few tricks up his sleeve that are meant to bring the audience fully into the film. For example, the opening sequence in this film starts off as completely normal, and Fawcett turns the tables immediately in a change that is so abrupt that it represents the surprise of the people who discovered it. As demonstrated in this opening scene, Fawcett has a very character-driven approach in his direction, bringing the audience into the minds of the protagonists as well as the other characters who are watching the protagonists. The approach is excellent and certainly very refreshing. What is most excellent is that Fawcett never resorts to cheap angles to get effect or egotistical camera set-ups to impress the Scorsese crowd. When Fawcett does resort to a few twists in the angles, the result is quite unsettling. For example, in the above-mentioned bathroom scene, Fawcett tilts the camera when Brigette enters, in a perfect representation of her feelings as well as the craziness of the moment.
Fawcett knows he’s not making a trash movie, thus there aren’t any trash elements . The sex scenes are frightening, the gross moments shocking, and there isn’t an ounce of nudity in this movie. Things come close, but Fawcett is not about to sacrifice schlock nudity for this carefully structured tone of the film. Without showing the nudity, this movie has that sense of class about it. Had any bare breasts actually shown up, one would have gotten the impression that the filmmakers were simply using the premise as a means for exploitation.
There are two excellent performances on display here from the film’s two leads. Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins are wonderful in their roles. Perkins especially is able to bring such a sense of shyness to her role that is never exaggerated or stupid. She strikes the perfect balance, and that voice of hers is fantastic. The chemistry between her and her sister is spot on, and there is never a moment when they seem like two actresses trying to be sisters. As for Isabelle, she handles her role wonderfully. There are a huge number of levels that she must go through in this movie: girl going from Goth to near sex symbol, girl going from near sex symbol to crumbling emotional wreck, girl going from crumbling emotional wreck to near psychotic…Isabelle is absolutely perfect. Plus, her delivery of the dialogue is haunting. There is a moment when she utters “I’m turning too fast”, and it is a chilling piece of acting. We feel the lack of control, know what she’s going through simply with those words.
The effects in this movie are fantastic. Every shot of the monster, every piece of gore in this flick is done with the good old-fashioned tools. They are also completely realistic. The blood is especially creepy looking, and the makeup applied to Isabelle in the later stretch of the film is mind-blowing. Basically, it makes her look incredibly sexy as well as incredibly monstrous, and the combination works masterfully. The wolf creature looks organic and real. In the scene where Ginger undergoes her final transformation, the effects are incredibly well done, with excellent use of bladders and animatronic effects.
Mike Shields has written a haunting score for Ginger Snaps. It is music that is lonely and isolated, with a mournful view on everything happening onscreen. It treats the subject matter as a Greek tragedy. The opening bars of the score over the wonderful title sequence make us feel alone and depressed, much like how the Fitzgerald sisters are portrayed in the film. It also brilliantly foreshadows Ginger’s lycanthropic disease and the sorrow she will have to suffer, but it never goes too far. Sometimes, if music goes all out in the opening credits, it can become limp and pointless in later stretches. Shields has shown restraint, and it pays off wonderfully. The best part of the music comes in the ending, when all the emotions in the film come full circle. The final shot is scored with the same mournful drone as in the credits, and the effect rips one’s heart to shreds.Ginger Snaps is one of the best werewolf movies ever made. Other films set the rules, but Ginger Snaps took them in wonderfully unique directions. The result is a film that will be near-perfect, and heartbreakingly beautiful.
link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5761&reviewer=355
originally posted: 12/14/03 01:30:08