This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Ginger Snaps: Review

Just how far can sibling love go? More to the point, how far should it?

Imagine this scenario: your beloved elder sister (with whom you share just about everything including a taste for death-themed photography) is turning slowly into a werewolf. How do you protect her from the consequences of her actions? Can you even try?

Of the genres of supernatural flicks represented by zombies, vampires, ghosts/demons and werewolves, I plump unashamedly for the werewolves. I find most zombie flicks comical, vampires stereotyped, and I don’t even remember the last ghost/demon film which didn’t make me sigh with exasperation. The least common and least respectable of the genres is undoubtedly the werewolf, but it’s the werewolf film I prefer all the same.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t horrible werewolf flicks; most of them are, just as most films in any given genre are either utter washouts or average at the most. It’s only the best that rise to the top and are worthy of notice. For example, I recently watched a werewolf film, “Blood And Chocolate”, which I abandoned halfway, it was so bad. I don’t know how it turned out because I didn’t watch it to the end. Another was a slasher/werewolf crossover, “Big Bad Wolf”, which I reviewed; it was a really funny horror/comedy but would have failed miserably if it had tried to be a serious werewolf film.

I’d heard about “Ginger Snaps” some time ago, while reading up on werewolf films which might be worth a watch. It’s actually the first in a series of three; the second being a sequel and the third a prequel. Because I had to go by what was available to me, I ended up watching the (direct-to-DVD) prequel, “Ginger Snaps Back” first. It wasn’t a bad movie, certainly, with some interesting plot devices which I’ll get to in a moment; but it had plot holes so large that, as I mentioned on the imdb board discussion on the film, that one could drive an entire pack of werewolves through them.

We all know the classical werewolf myth: a curse causes certain humans to transform into either wolves or wolflike creatures on full moon nights (and only on full moon nights); they are virtually immune to everything except silver bullets; and they are either unaware of or unable to stop themselves from this transformation, during which they are essentially mindless killing machines. Most films these days seem to have abandoned this restrictive premise and probably for fairly good reason. For example, the werewolves of “Big Bad Wolf” and “Blood and Chocolate” can both shapeshift at will; they aren’t imprisoned by the cycles of the moon, and they can still think and even talk. And many of these new-look werewolves can spread the condition, like a zombie or a vampire can, by a bite. It doesn’t have to be a curse. Not anymore.

The werewolves of the Ginger Snaps series are different in one vital and extremely significant respect: the condition is irreversible. The affected person doesn’t change into a werewolf all at once. The process takes days and progresses in stages, with the growth of sharp teeth and a tail, talons at the ends of fingers, and so on, and the final transformation into a werewolf occurs only after so many other changes have taken place that it’s not that great a change at all. And once someone’s a werewolf, he or she is a werewolf for good; they can’t change back to a naked human clutching a sheet round them, come morning. And any appropriate weapon can kill them; they don’t need silver to die.

(I know, the purists are screaming already, “But that’s not how werewolves are! Werewolves are supposed to re-humanise themselves, for dog’s sake! They’re ruining the genre!” Oh please: werewolves are fiction. No werewolf ever existed. Nobody owns a patent on them. Anyone can re-invent them anyway they want. Geddit?)

To get back to where we began, the story goes like this – and as usual I’m trying not to introduce spoilers: Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are two teenage Canadian sisters who share a morbid fascination for death and enjoy photographing each other in death poses and so on, much to the discomfort of their teacher. Meanwhile, a Beast is devouring pets in their town; a Beast that attacks and bites Ginger the night she has her first period. Ginger manages to escape somehow, and the Beast is turned into roadkill by a passing vehicle driven by a dope dealer called Sam. Ginger’s lacerated wounds heal remarkably quickly, so quickly that both she and Brigitte realise this is not normal, especially when hair begins sprouting from the scars. She also begins to develop strong sexual urges (having just attained menarche, which seems incredible when you look at her physical development, really) and goes out and has unprotected sex with one of her classmates, Jason, infecting him too. By this time she’s started to grow a tail and begun to develop violent impulses. Brigitte and Sam try and develop an injectable herbal cure, but while this manages to rescue the young man Ginger has infected, Ginger herself has gone on a murderous spree and begun a full-scale transformation. Brigitte does her best, trying to find a cure, trying to hide Ginger’s victims, even taping Ginger’s tail to her leg to conceal it and later locking her in a bathroom so she can’t get out and do damage. Finally, she cuts her palm and mixes Ginger’s blood and hers, so she’ll have the condition time. Still and all, it’s not enough.

Right, that’s all I’m going to say about the plot. It’s more intricate than that, with a hugely oblivious mother (who for some reason mysteriously disappears towards the end of the film), unfriendly classmates, and the like, but basically the film rests on the chemistry between Brigitte and Ginger. The latter character is handled admirably by the actress, Katharine Isabelle. She’s infinitely better here than she would be, four years later, in “Ginger Snaps Back”. As for Emily Perkins, who plays Brigitte, I’m sure she did a competent job. It’s just that I didn’t like the character of Brigitte in “Ginger Snaps Back” and I like her here no better. If she acted a bit less like a little old woman, wore clothes that belonged less on Mother Hubbard’s pet scarecrow (even her nightdress looks like something out of the Victorian Age), kept her head erect instead of thrust forward, kept her mouth closed when not talking instead of perpetually open, and took longer steps instead of robotic jerks as if she was hobbled, I might have had some sympathy for her. As she is, in my opinion she deserved all she got, and more.

Definitely, this isn’t a film for light watching, though it has some funny lines. The oblivious mom, on coming across what she imagines to be a corpse, exclaims “Jesus Christ on a bicycle!”, for instance. Another time, when Brigitte and Ginger are burying one of the latter’s first, and inadvertent, victims, Brigitte asks, “If I weren’t here, would you eat her?” Ginger: “God, no! That would be like fucking her!” But otherwise, certainly not the sort of film meant for beer parties on Saturday nights. It’s one of the few genre films where one needs to think.

Now for the special effects. The makeup is good, the gore not too excessive, and the werewolf isn’t overdone by being introduced too much or too early. Like the werewolves of “Ginger Snaps Back”, it’s much more reminiscent of an ursid (bear) than a canid (dog), and is menacing enough when it does show up. The werewolves of the prequel look a bit better though, if only because they are furrier and less pink.

Since I obviously like this film, why am I giving it only three stars? It’s because I’m not rating it on a B movie scale, but on a scale for regular movies (that’s how good it is). On a B movie scale it would probably get about 4 or even 4.5.

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