This franchise deserves to be better known than it is. Ginger Snaps was a low-budget Canadian werewolf film released in the year 2000 with two teenage sisters for protagonists and a "lycanthropy = menstruation" theme. Critics liked it, it sold well on DVD and the Toronto International Film Festival gave it a Special Jury Citation award. Personally I liked it a lot. It's intelligent, it has attitude and it was probably one of the best werewolf films made in... wow, there aren't many good werewolf films, are there?
A few years later, two sequels were made back-to-back. This is the first of those, with a slightly higher budget than the original, but it flopped so hard at the box office that the other, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, went direct-to-video. Apparently that one's a werewolf historical set in the Wild West. I can't wait. Anyway, I liked the original but unsurprisingly didn't have any real expectations for this sequel. Imagine how surprised I was when it turned out to be every bit as good as the first one and in some ways arguably better.
The title's misleading. Ginger was the name of the werewolf sister from the original, but that's a problem here since she's dead. That's not necessarily the end in horror films, of course. Her ghost pops back occasionally to talk to her sister, Bridget, but you couldn't exactly say she gets unleashed. Incidentally, is it my imagination or has Ginger put on weight in the intervening four years? Impressive for a spectre.
As a result Bridget's the star of the show and I have to call that a brave move. This is a harsh film to watch and one reason why is its heroine. How should can I say this? Um... Ginger was the sexy one. Bridget is a minger and I have to congratulate the actress, Emily Perkins, for being willing to be made to look so ugly for the sake of this film. I'm sure even she'd admit she won't be appearing on any chocolate boxes, but even so she's playing a character who self-mutilates, injects herself with poisons and goes around with a painful scowl on her face for every second of her screen time. At one point someone asks her to smile. She responds like Wednesday Addams. She infected herself with Ginger's lycanthropy, you see, and she's turned herself into a scary freak person in her attempts to stop herself wolfing out.
I loved all this. It's wonderful to see a movie these days that dares to have a heroine who isn't beautiful. I'm sure it didn't help the box office, but Emily Perkins is memorably intense as this aggressive, driven monster. She's infinitely more interesting than some Baywatch bimbo and nails even her more extreme scenes. We're talking self-harm here.
The film opens with Bridget shaving herself (all over) in the bath. I don't like razors and so was already cringing, so you can imagine my reaction to what came next: the scalpel and the syringe. She's cutting herself and timing how long she takes to heal, as a way of tracking the progress of her condition. I admire that. It's clever. It's also disgusting. Eventually Bridget's cutting bits off her pointy ears and holding broken glass to her own throat.
Then, towards the end, we see her werewolf face, which takes us to literally inhuman realms of ugliness. They've chosen a make-up job for her partially transformed state that's not even mammalian, let alone vulpine. She's some kind of shrivelled lizard-girl. It's cool, but it's not exactly flattering.
I can understand why the film went there, though. Werewolves look rubbish. Real wolves just look like dogs, while wolfmen are jokes. The best one I've seen to date was in Doctor Who, oddly enough, whereas Oz in Buffy for instance looked like a glove puppet. This film uses its fully transformed monster intelligently, i.e. it shows as little of it as possible. Occasionally we see too much and realise that it's Gordon the Gopher, but for the most part it keeps us in the dark with close-ups of muzzle and claw. I liked that. This film has good werewolf scenes. They're intense, they're atmospheric and they match the tone of the story.
The film begins with Bridget living alone in the city, but she soon manages to get herself committed to a rehabilitation centre for what everyone assumes is drug addiction. This is great. Remember the similar rehab centre in the third Nightmare on Elm Street film? That was a laughable movie version, whereas this is the real thing. Bridget's fellow inmates are unpleasant, self-obsessed and/or bullying. A male orderly trades drugs for sexual favours from the inmates. At one point, Bridget finds her way into a derelict area of the hospital, which apparently the filmmakers shot in a real abandoned mental hospital. Its dangerously run-down state is exactly as they found it. The rehab centre is so convincing and interesting that I was disappointed when Bridget eventually escaped from there, since I'd been looking forward to seeing what would happen when she wolfed out among the inmates, wardens and hilariously misguided therapist.
I was particularly impressed by those group therapy sessions, by the way. The first one is merely funny, but the group masturbation session was, um, a surprise.
I haven't even mentioned the film's other important character! That would be Ghost, played by one Tatiana Maslany, who looks twelve even though she was born in 1985. She's seriously good. She's also in Romero's Diary of the Dead and Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, incidentally. Ghost is a gigantic geek, with some personality quirks and lots of comic books about werewolves. When we first meet her, she's just another rehab inmate, but her role grows and grows. She's what gives the film its real meat, feeding into themes of lies and falsely accused innocence, and she's in a seriously scary place by the time it all ends. She can also be funny! I liked her "pay the ferryman" bit, for instance.
Oh, and there's also a second werewolf. This confused me for a while, although I think it might have been meant to. Bridget's mental state is something we're not meant to be entirely comfortable about, with visions of her dead sister, and so it's not clear at first whether that first werewolf attack was real, imaginary or the actions of a third party. At first I thought it was a bit much, introducing a second werewolf, but it gives the story a good kick and ensures that we never fall into the "wallow in self-pity for ninety minutes" trap to which a movie like this can be vulnerable. Monsters are good. They eat people and give our heroes something to run away from and/or try to fight. I also like the explanation for its being there in the first place.
Like its predecessor, this is an intelligent horror film that isn't just throwing guts at the screen, but is instead using the genre to explore themes. Those are my favourites. The film also has a woman in a full body cast and lots of snow. I liked the snow. That's how you can tell it's Canadian.
The ending's evil too. This isn't a rollicking party movie, as you can probably tell from how it fared at the box office, but personally I admire it. Go watch.