MOVIE REVIEW: Ginger Snaps (Canada, 2000)

It’s rather odd that among all the many werewolf movies over the decades, there are very, very few that make the connection between lycanthropy and a certain biological situation.

Think about it for a minute. You suddenly find yourself undergoing unwilling changes. Your body alters, and so does your personality. Every month, like clockwork, you lose control of your body and it practically rebels against you and your will. On top of the physical changes, your personality may undergo radical changes.

If this sounds like puberty and menstruation to you, give yourself a cookie.

Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) are two goth sisters living in the mind-numbingly boring suburban community of Bailey Downs. Several years ago, they swore a solemn oath to each other that they would both be “out by sixteen, or dead on the scene”. Now that Ginger is approaching her sixteenth birthday, the two are falling deeper into morbid despair. It doesn’t help that they have both been social outsiders for years, and on top of that, both are way behind on puberty.

The only things keeping their interest are speculations on how their classmates will meet their (preferably grisly) demise, and the occasional depredations of “The Beast of Bailey Downs”. Some sort of wild creature has been attacking the neighborhood dogs, leaving gruesome remains behind.

One night in early October, Ginger finally gets her first period. As it happens, the sisters are out walking past some woods that night when they are attacked by The Beast. Brigitte is unharmed, but Ginger is mauled. They flee across a road in an attempt to escape, just in time for Sam (Kris Lemche) to drive by in his van and run over the creature, completely destroying it. There’s nothing identifiable left.

When the sisters get home, a quick inspection reveals that Ginger’s wounds are healing much faster than they ought to. Needless to say, Ginger has become a werewolf. Brigitte, with some help from Sam, figures out what happened. As Ginger becomes more assertive, more agressive, and more sexy, Brigitte is unable to convince the adults around that something is wrong with her sister. She’s too awkward and the adults are too dismissive for them to spot the hints that what Ginger is going through is NOT a normal puberty. It’s up to Brigitte, with Sam’s help, to come up with something to stop Ginger’s transformation before her next period – er, the next full moon.

A movie with this story could have easily fallen into self-parody or sank to the bottom of the Barrel of Blandness. One must give credit to the team of John Fawcett and Karen Walton, who came up with the story. Fawcett also wore the directorial hat. They both had a good deal of experience in television and shorts, but this was the first feature film for both of them. As the sisters, Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins had a lot of heavy lifting to do. Fortunately, they each had over a decade of acting experience behind them. That means they were both acting before, during, and after their puberties. So they knew exactly what to do. Happily, Fawcett had enough confidence in their abilities to let them act. A more heavy-handed director could have ruined the movie.

Don’t come to this movie looking for gore or werewolf effects. They are there, but that’s not the point. This movie is about much more than that. Isabelle and Perkins each turn in outstanding performances. The combination of emotions that their characters go through is amazingly and convincingly displayed. They make the movie well worth the search.

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