★★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Bullying, puberty, lycanthropy. Life’s not easy for a high school girl.
Directed by John Fawcett.
Welcome to Bailey Downs. “A Safe and Caring Community”. In this sleepy little Canadian town the high school girls play field hockey, comfortable suburban homes are nestled in quiet cul de sacs, and you might wake up in the morning to find your dog spread across the lawn in horrible, bloody pieces.
Bailey Downs has a problem. It’s called The Beast of Bailey Downs and it’s been terrorizing the community for some time now. Long enough that folks pretty much just take it in stride when someone loses a pet. The Beast has become more nuisance than threat.
Sixteen year old Ginger Fitzgerald [Katharine Isabelle; American Mary (2012), TV’s Hannibal (2014-2015)] and her sister, Brigitte, who “skipped a grade” are in the same class at the local high school. They’ve lived their whole lives in Bailey Downs and they hate it. So much so that they made a pact when they were eight years old: “Out by 16 or dead in the scene, but together forever.”
They hold nothing less than total disdain for everyone and everything in town; especially their high school peers. Living in suburbia with the white picket fences and minivans is their version of Hell and their worst fear is becoming “average” like everyone else in their lives. Needless to say, the sisters are social outcasts. They spend their days in each others’ company, sharing their morbid hobbies, and wishing they were anywhere else.
After a particularly bad day at school, the girls sneak out at night planning to get even with their main tormentor, a fellow student named Trina [Danielle Hampton; TV’s Paradise Falls (2004)]. Unfortunately, their plans get derailed.
Ginger gets attacked by The Beast of Bailey Downs. She survives, just barely, but then she starts to change…
Historically, werewolves in popular culture are far more likely to be male. Which is somewhat ironic as women were about 150% more likely to be accused of being werewolves during the Werewolf Trials in 16th – 18th century Europe. When a female werewolf does show up on the screen, they’re often shown as either one or the other: human female or fully wolf — conspicuously skipping the transformation that their male counterparts would go through.
Ginger Snaps is all about pushing against social conventions. Ginger refuses to accept her “rightful place” as a young woman and revels in her newfound, wolfish confidence. Sexually aggressive, violently protective, she thoroughly embraces her animal side. Society be damned. She’s going to live how she wants and the filmmakers are going to show it.
Sisterhood features prominently in this movie as well. The kinship, the jealousies, the competition, the bond. Brigitte [Emily Perkins; Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004), TV’s Supernatural (2009-2011)] stands by her sister even while Ginger tests the bounds of their friendship. She’s loyal, resourceful, and ultimately learns that she’s more than just “Ginger’s sister.” She’s a fierce young woman in her own right.
This is not what you’d call a low-budget film. According to IMDB, Ginger Snaps had a budget of about $5 million and it shows. Since the movie was made in 2000, the 18 year old special effects for the werewolf may not entirely hold up these days — though the animatronic head used in close-ups still looks pretty cool — but everything else does. The camera work is well done and, coupled with some excellent use of lighting and color, gives some scenes a bit of a surreal/comic book feeling which goes well with the subject matter.
When it comes to the acting, Katharine Isabelle owns this movie with her portrayal of Ginger. For the most part, everyone else just trails along in her wake. Emily Perkins (Brigitte) is the only one who can usually keep up with her, although Kris Lemche [Final Destination 3 (2006)] makes a valiant effort as Sam, the local drug dealer with a heart of gold.
The writing for the characters is perfect. Based on a story by Karen Walton — who later went on to write for and co-executive produce TV’s Orphan Black (2013 – 2014) — the script for Ginger Snaps was a collaborative effort between Ms. Walton and director John Fawcett [co-creator/director for Orphan Black (2013-2017)]. The pace of the film and the balance of emotional highs and lows work their magic to keep the viewer very much engaged.
My only regret is that I failed to include this movie in my Top 25 list when we were working on the Scariest Things’ Top 100 Horror Films of All Time. Luckily, our lovable Queen of the Shaky Cam, Amy, had Ginger Snaps on her list so I was reminded of its brilliance.
But my omission will weigh heavily on my soul for all of Eternity.
Or, at least until we update our Top 100.
Whichever comes first.