Dir. John Fawcett (2000)
Two sisters obsessed with death run into trouble when one is bitten by a werewolf.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Werewolf movies are hit or miss at best, with far more shitty additions to the subgenre than good ones. For every An American Werewolf in London, there are a hundred An American Werewolf in Parises. When they hit, however, they hit big, with films like John Fawcett's 2000 coming-of-age werewolf drama Ginger Snaps becoming a cult classic that is as effective today as it was when it was released. Starring Katharine Isabelle (American Mary) and Emily Perkins (It, Juno) as two sisters who are obsessed with death and have made a suicide pact as a symbol of their being so over the world, Ginger Snaps examines lycanthropy as a parable for menstruation and puberty, a look into the difficulties of growing up female in a world where the fairer sex is valued for their ability to breed far more than their contributions to society.
Isabelle is a great foil for the central point of the film and delivers a performance for the ages as Ginger, a high school student who has an unfortunate run-in with a werewolf before it is smeared on the blacktop by a speeding van. The van's driver is Sam (Kris Lemche), a local drug dealer who also happens to be a sort of expert on werewolves and forms an instant connection with Ginger's sister Brigitte (Perkins) in her attempt to cure Ginger's new affliction. Much of the film is devoted to Ginger's slow transformation into a mythical beast, as she sprouts a tail, begins to grow hair in strange places, and other changes that draw a direct parallel to her burgeoning womanhood. As the other high school students begin to draw their attention to Ginger's new look, Brigitte and Sam devise a way to fix the curse once and for all.
Director John Fawcett does a phenomenal job in crafting an instant cult classic, a film that's highly rated by critics and audiences alike. Interestingly enough, The Morrigan really didn't like the film, but I did my best to explain to her how horribly wrong she is. Fawcett's dirty cinematography, a "consequence" of the film's indie production value, works perfectly to create a homegrown horror that is easily one of the best werewolf movies in existence. The film is up there with Jennifer's Body as a commentary on the coming-of-age female perspective. Ginger Snaps has an arthouse feel that is exceptionally rare for werewolf films too, a wonderful discussion of teenage society and their abstract relationship with the adults that are of little help with the problems in their lives.
The film is also surprisingly emotional, and both Isabelle and Perkins do a wonderful job of creating a sisterly bond that permeates every frame of the film. The sisters have made plans from a young age to end their lives on their terms, and more importantly to go out together, whenever that may be. As Ginger's affliction continues to get more and more out of control, the dynamic between the sisters begins to change: Brigitte's previous commitment was theoretical, a show of devotion to her sister that was never intended to be taken seriously, while Ginger's loyalty was just as much to the concept of death as it ever was to her sister. Ginger, knowing full well the consequences of her suggestion, wants to turn Brigitte into a werewolf as well. Brigitte is terrified, seeking to maintain the status quo by removing her sister's lycanthropic side and turning her back into the sister that she's always had. When push comes to shove, she does her best to be a part of the pack, realizing that it will never work and that she must eventually choose between her sister and her own salvation.
The animatronics used in the werewolf itself are pretty cool, as are the makeup effects used during Ginger's transformation. It's a bold move to make Katharine Isabelle absent for the film's finale, and Fawcett is entirely dependent on Perkins' performance to carry the heartfelt closure of the movie. Thankfully, she is more than up for the challenge, and the film ends with a bloodbath that still celebrates the sisterly love between the siblings. The cast is excellent from top to bottom, and while the metaphors at the heart of the story are a bit hamhanded and obvious, it's still adeptly presented and conceptually sound enough to make Ginger Snaps into a must-see for teen horror fans.
The film has spawned a sequel, a prequel, and a television series that is in development (though COVID may well have killed it from what I can find), and its transformation into a teen cult classic within the genre makes it a highly recommended movie for many horror fans. I personally love it, and if you haven't watched this one yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Who this movie is for: Teen horror lovers, Feminist horror enthusiasts, Creative botanists
Bottom line: Ginger Snaps is a surprisingly heartwarming tale of sisterly love and werewolves, a cult classic that is a must-see for anyone claiming to be a horror fan. The actors do a phenomenal job from top to bottom and there's enough dark humor to make anyone smile at least once. The creature effects are excellent, though a bit fake-looking at times near the end, and the story is different enough from other entries in the genre that the film feels fresh even 23 years after its inception. Isabelle is a star and makes her name as an indie horror darling with an excellent, genre-defining performance. If you haven't seen this one yet, you need to.