Can this happen to a normal woman?
A uniquely Canadian horror film, Ginger Snaps doesn’t get near the attention it deserves in horror circles. Simply put, Ginger Snaps was one of the best horror films of the 2000s. Written by Karen Walton and directed by John Fawcett, Ginger Snaps is a werewolf story revolving around two outcast sisters obsessed with death. Yet like the best horror films, Ginger Snaps is so much more than a werewolf story.
To be sure, as a horror film, Ginger Snaps is extremely well-made. Director John Fawcett aptly balances dark humour with genuine scares. Additionally, the werewolf effects and gore still hold up quite well. Werewolf design can be quite tricky and while the practical effects are certainly noticeable, the monster is smartly kept in the shadows to no detriment in the film’s overall quality. Ginger Snaps is a witty, moody, and atmospheric horror film. Yet where the film excels is in the much deeper meanings found in its story.
They Don’t Call It the Curse for Nothing
Walton’s werewolf story is a uniquely feminist horror film that ties its lycanthropy mythology to a young girl’s transition into womanhood. Ginger Fitzgerald, played by Katharine Isabelle, is 15-years-old and still has not had her first period, a fact awkwardly dropped by her mother during a family dinner. Like her younger sister, Brigette (played by Emily Perkins), Ginger dresses in frumpy clothes and is clearly uncomfortable with her own appearance, particularly around boys.
On the evening when Ginger finally has her period, she is attacked by a werewolf. From that point forward, Ginger’s lycanthropy and her growth into womanhood are intertwined thematically in the film. As hair grows from her bite wounds and a small tail begins to protrude, Ginger develops an instant interest in boys and begins rebelling. She also finds a newfound confidence in her own body, illustrated in an excellent scene where Ginger parades into the school hall, initially uncomfortable but quickly embracing the attention she receives.
“You’re doing drugs with guys. Something is definitely wrong with you.”
Other films have examined, and linked, femininity and female sexuality with the monstrous in the horror genre, including Stephen King’s Carrie. What sets Ginger Snaps apart from these films is Walton’s smart script that refuses to allow Ginger’s femininity and sexuality to be deviantized. Ginger Snaps has a lot of clever things to say beneath the surface about double standards surrounding sexuality and gender. Before she is bitten, Ginger is catcalled and ogled by her male teen peers. Once she’s bitten, Ginger becomes the predator, turning the tables on one cat-caller. Yet after her first sexual encounter, Ginger still understands that boys have the social power lamenting to Brigette, that the boy “got laid” and she is just “layee” and “[a] girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door.”
Nevertheless, Ginger refuses to conform to social expectations and stereotypical gender role norms. In some ways, the werewolf can be thought of as a metaphor for non-conformity. Ginger doesn’t balk at the power her transformation offers, but rather embraces it. In once scene, she even compares it to masturbation, again linking lycanthropy to sexuality, telling Brigitte, “…I’m a goddamn force of nature … I feel like I could do anything.” In Ginger Snaps, femininity and sexuality are not the “curse” to which the film’s tagline cleverly refers. Instead, the “curse” refers to the social double standards that are forced onto young women.
A Rare Horror Film about Sisterhood
At the heart of the film is the relationship between the Fitzgerald sisters, Ginger and younger sister, Brigette. There are countless horror films that revolve around young boys and their friendships. It’s refreshing to see a film offer a different perspective. When the audience is first introduced to the sisters, they are defiant outcasts with only each other. “Out at sixteen, or dead on the scene, but together forever” is their sisterly bond. Walton’s script fully humanizes Ginger and Brigette, imbuing them with the emotions and struggles that many young girls may share.
This is the second major theme in Ginger Snaps – the friendship and emotional bonds between the sisters that is eventually tested in the transition from childhood to adolescence. As Ginger matures, embracing her sexuality and lycanthropy, Brigette feels increasingly isolated. Early scenes of the sisters sitting alone on school bleachers are later contrasted with a scene of Brigette sitting alone. On one hand, Brigette is fearful for her sister’s safety as she changes, but she also feels abandoned. Later in the film, it’s Ginger who feels abandoned when Brigette turns to Sam, a high school dropout and drug dealer, to find a cure for Ginger.
“You picked Sam over me…”:
Like The Craft, Ginger Snaps is the rare horror film that focuses on young women and their relationships with each other. It’s a theme that is greatly assisted by the performances delivered by Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins. Isabelle is fantastic as Ginger, capably alternating between strength and vulnerability, while eliciting empathy for her character. As the bright and awkward Brigette, Perkins plays to the strong characterization in the screenplay, elevating her character from what might normally be a stereotype in other teen films. Both young actresses elicit a connection with the audience that allows the film’s material to linger long after you’ve watched it.
A Film That Has Only Become More Relevant
In the almost 20 years since its release, Ginger Snaps remains a brilliantly entertaining and effective horror film. Perhaps more importantly, its unique focus on young women and their relationships, as well as its commentary on social norms and sexuality, is arguably more relevant now than when the film was first released.