Brigitte is a 15 year old girl from a nice suburban neighborhood who dresses in frumpy clothes and fantasizes about suicide; though to her credit, she doesn’t wear the white make-up and Victorian British dresses that most goth cliches do. She shuns all human connections, save the one with her older sister, Ginger.
Ginger dresses in a slightly less frumpy fashion. She, too, rejects the other kids at her school, though in her case you can see that it is rooted in bitterness. While she may not like the eccentricities of the ruling class, she wants to be one with them.
Both are somewhat late bloomers, and as un-luck would have it, on the night Ginger gets her first period, she is also attacked by a werewolf. A lot has been made of the this film’s use of the transformation into a werewolf as a metaphor for puberty. The connection is clearly there; they call menstruation a ‘curse,’ and Brigitte asks the school nurse about hair that wasn’t there before; but the metaphor isn’t overwrought. Ginger’s change very quickly branches off into something wholly different. If anything, the werewolf thing is about two childhood friends growing apart as they grow up.
The puberty angle is just a catalyst for change, causing Ginger to leave the safety of her and Brigitte’s room. She wears revealing clothes, does drugs, and has sex with some guy. Her actions are tied in to her transformation. The wolf in her asserts its animal instincts of lust, hunger, and sadism (a common trait found in all member of the Canidae family). Brigitte is upset by the change (both physical and personal) and works to find a cure. She seems less perturbed by the tail and claws Ginger has grown, than she is by her sister hanging out with guys they used to make fun of together.
Ginger, in turn, lashes out at Brigitte, perhaps because she reminds her of loser she once was (of thought herself to be, anyways).
The two lead actors, Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins are wonderful. They manage to make these outwardly stereotypical characters (goth and slut) nuanced and likable.
Ginger Snaps presents an interesting take on the werewolf genre, one lacking most of the usual mysticism. As Sam, the drug dealing cherry hound who helps Brigitte says, ‘you’re real, your problem is real, the solution is real.’ Of course, they still end up using monkshood (wolfs bane), but at least they inject it with a syringe. (As a side note to the writer of this movie, using the word lycanthrope does not make you look smart. We’ve heard it before.)
The make-up and werewolf look good from a distance or in brief shots, but show their faults in close ups. They look a little rubbery, and lack fine movement. The horror elements in the movie are very effective, especially the initial werewolf attack, and climax in Brigitte’s house. The visual style is very much of a classic horror type. It’s impressive how the director is about to make a suburban playground look so ominous.
Ginger Snaps excels not only because it is a finely crafted horror film, but also because it tells a beautiful story about the complex relationship between two girls.