Ginger Snaps (2000)

A smart, funny, and scary movie about teenage werewolves, Ginger Snaps is possibly the epitome of the genre — better than all similar films before it and something to which films following it can aspire. This is a fantastic horror movie from start to finish, and it’s absolutely one that you should seek out. It is fresh, intelligent, and a great ride at the movies.

The film is set in the suburb of Bailey Downs, a quiet place for the most part but recently dogs have been turning up dead, with no suspect having been seen. The leads are two sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), who fantasize about death and take the goth aesthetic as seriously as one can at that age. They’re picked on but they have one another, and that’s all that matters. One night, on the way to seek revenge on a classmate, they’re attacked by a creature who is then killed by a van driven by the local drug dealer, Sam (Kris Lemche). Ginger was bitten. It’s a bad bite but it heals rather quickly. The girls don’t tell anyone.

Soon enough, Ginger begins going through both physical and mental changes. She grows a tail, hair begins to grow from her bites, she gets a thirst for blood and a hunger for the meat of live animals. You know, the normal things. She also gets her first period, because lycanthropy is going to be cleverly linked to puberty as the film progresses. Brigitte begins looking for a cure with Sam while Ginger continues her transformation into a werewolf. Yes, the creature that attacked was a werewolf, and soon Ginger will also be one.

Apart from puberty, Ginger Snaps riffs on almost all aspects of adolescence, especially for a teenage girl. It’s clever and far smarter than it needed to be. It has teenagers and werewolves; it didn’t have to have anything to say — but it does and it’s all the better for it. It’s also wickedly funny, both with its sharp observations and plenty of black comedy. It’s difficult to find a more complete movie than this one. It has everything that you can look for.

Ginger Snaps is a low-budget Canadian film, and as a result it uses practical effects and makes every effort to ensure that you don’t have to see those effects all that much. That makes it scarier. The more you see of something, the less frightening it becomes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The werewolf in this movie is only really seen in all its glory at the end, and even then clever cinematic techniques are used to keep it a mystery for as long as possible.

It is somewhat scary, and not just because it’s a horror movie. The emotions it generates feel real. You can truly sense what Brigitte feels while watching her sister transform the way she does. And since the lycanthropy is a metaphor for puberty, well, you most of the people watching the film will have gone through that. And if you haven’t, that might make it even scarier. The on-screen scares, and generally creepy scenes, are just as effective. They’re built up well and executed effectively.

The same is true of the lead characters. Both Ginger and Brigitte are so well-written that you both care about them and understand them and their outlook on life. They’re also wonderfully performed. Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins are great in the roles. Isabelle, having to go through some very serious developments as the film progresses, is stunning. Perkins, as the anchor, keeps us grounded and provides us a very determined performance. Kris Lemche is also surprisingly realistic.

All of the other characters, however, are completely insane. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but given that the film is told from the perspective of two girls who don’t fit in with the world, that makes sense. The mother (Mimi Rogers) seems solely fixated on the girls becoming “women.” The dad (John Bougeois) is oblivious to everyone. Each high school student is extremely mean or horny. It’s filtered through the girls for us, so it makes sense for them to be like this. It helps further separate them from our protagonists, too.

I also appreciated how Ginger Snaps has no problems “going there,” so to speak. It does whatever it needs to in order to get its point across. This isn’t a watered-down PG-13 film that is aiming to appeal to the censorship board. It has the ability to genuinely shock. It isn’t gratuitous, but it doesn’t hold back when it needs to show some graphic content. It manages to keep a consistent tone that is equal parts funny, scary, and dramatic.

Ginger Snaps is one heck of a great movie. It has just about everything that you need from a movie. It’s dramatic, funny, intelligent, and scary. It has well-written characters, sharp observations on the high school life and adolescence, and great performances. Is there anything wrong with it? Well, I’m disappointed in the way they decided to spell “Brigitte.” I’m far more used to spelling it “Bridget.” That’s the only complaint that I have with it. Other than that, it’s pretty much perfect. It is a great movie and if it sounds even remotely interesting to you it’s something you owe it to yourself to seek out.

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