Fifteen-year-old Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) and her nearly-sixteen-year-old sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) are both best friends and outcasts. Obsessed with dying and bound by a childhood pact to stay together forever, they loathe their mind-numbing existence in the suburbs of Bailey Downs. One night the two girls are heading through the woods when Ginger is savagely attacked by a wild creature. Ginger’s horrible wounds miraculously heal over, but something is not quite right about her. Ginger is irritable and in denial. But to Brigitte, it is obvious that a terrifying force has taken hold of her sister. She’s convinced that the insatiable craving her sister is experiencing can mean only one thing: Ginger is becoming something unspeakably evil and monstrous. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
“So, you got bit by a great big hormone?”
Canadian director John Fawcett and his equally Canadian co-writer Karen Walton set the stage for post-millennial feminist horror with their 2000 werewolf sibling film, Ginger Snaps. It was popular enough to spawn a sequel, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, and a prequel, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, both released 2004). The first film tied film and folklore werewolf mythos to the process of sexual maturity and the lycanthropy-equals-puberty analogy is layered thick for maximum impact. Ginger Snaps also earned comparisons to (fellow Canadian) David Cronenberg’s early, venereal body horror opuses, in that the werewolf curse is passed due to Ginger’s increase in sexual urges and its symptoms include brutal physical changes. The story is anchored in the experience of its female characters. Only Sam (Kris Lemche), a local drug dealer that acts as Brigitte’s confidant (not love interest) and botany expert, is invited to participate in the narrative – a point driven home when Brigitte and Ginger’s mom tells their dad to “stay in his own world,” because this one “just confuses him.”
Ginger Snaps has garnered some criticism in feminist circles, because they see Ginger as a Madonna/whore binary, turning from one to the other after her lycanthropic changes. Her use of sex against her (mostly) male victims also sometimes garners unfortunate comparsions to rape/revenge movies. While I agree that the sexual nature of Ginger’s attacks is rooted in a similar type of audience surrogate vengeance (the matter of sex being wielded as a weapon has been controversial in feminist media discussions forever now), but in this context, Ginger is also empowered by her animalistic passions. She’s doing it for her own pleasure, not exacting personal vendettas against the film's dopey male cast. It’s also worth noting that, despite the punny title, Brigitte is the film’s lead protagonist and that her goal to ‘save’ her sister from her impulse to murder, rather than her impulse to have sex. I don’t want to argue that Ginger Snaps features only positive metaphors, but I also don’t think that it ever equates the sins of sex and murder. The deeper meaning relates to Brigitte’s revolt against conventional teenage gender roles (the allegorical rape scene seems to express how unimportant sex actually is). To Ginger, the monster inside represents freedom of will and, to Brigitte, it represents the oppression of normality.
Apart from any feminist reading, Ginger Snaps is easily among best werewolf film since American Werewolf in London and The Howling in 1981. It’s not exactly a monumental achievement, considering that Neil Jordan’s Dog Soldiers (2002) and Michael Dougherty portmanteau horror Trick ‘r Treat (2007) were the only particularly good werewolf movies of the decade (Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf  doesn’t count – not a werewolf), but notable, considering how hard filmmakers tried to “make werewolves happen” between 2000 and 2009. A first-time feature director at the time, Fawcett wrings a lot of atmosphere on a limited budget and only makes minor mistakes in terms of overall refinement. At most, the film could’ve used another editing pass (the climax is a bit flat). The violence is brutal while leaving just enough to our imaginations to easily score an MPAA R-rating. The physically-created werewolf design is also unique in that it is albino critter, and it bears surprising resemblance to actress Katharine Isabelle. Basically unknown at the time, Isabelle and Emily Perkins’ performances are particular good, helping each to grow into solid, usually genre-themed careers
Ginger Snaps has had a rough time on digital home media. It was initially released in its native Canada in a lavish collector’s edition from TVA International. That version included a number of extras, a 5.1 soundtrack, and an anamorphic transfer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to get stateside, where Artisan Entertainment barfed out a barebones disc that was cropped to 1.33:1. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray marks the first 1080p home video release of the film and, if we’re counting the DVD included with the collection, also the first anamorphic version available in the US (cropped at the appropriate theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1). This is, overall, a nice upgrade over even the Canadian DVD in terms of vibrancy, detail, and element separation. The darker scenes, which were pretty muddy on DVD, are clearer and feature much more vibrant versions of cinematographer Thom Best’s stylized colour schemes. However, there are a number of unexpected issues. The original material appears to be in bad shape for a relatively young movie. The scan is busy with machine noise and natural grain, both of which are understandable, along with some less expected water damage of some kind and some odd flecks of black and white print damage. More problematic are excessive sharpening effects and high contrast. Clearly, Ginger Snaps is meant to be a dark movie and there was a lot of room for crisper detail, but the haloes and crushed blacks are not the answer. I’m disappointed, but not enough to recommend against a purchase for fans.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a very good, uncompressed representation of a slightly awkward remix. There aren’t many differences between it and the included 2.0 track (also DTS-HD MA) – the dialogue isn’t exclusively centered (at least not constantly) and the rear channels aren’t nearly as lively as the stereo channels – but the discrete LFE is a punchy improvement. The creature attack scenes are the major highlights, including plenty of directional enhancement, bass-rumbling werewolf growls, and exaggerated splatter sounds. Mike Shields’ music is terminally hip in its late-‘90s blend of gothic pop and traditional symphonic melodies, but fits the material beautifully, especially his almost mawkishly mournful opening title theme. The score is the track’s liveliest element, though the clarity of this track gives away the synthesized qualities of some of the instrumentations.
Ginger Snaps: Blood, Teeth, and Fur (1:06:30, HD) – a fantastic new retrospective documentary that includes interviews with Fawcett, Walton, cast members Emily Perkins and Jesse Moss, producer Steve Hoban, make-up effects artist Paul Jones, composer Mike Shields, and editor Brett Sullivan. It covers concepts, themes, writing, pre-production, casting, special effects, altering footage (limiting curse words and cutting scenes they couldn’t afford to film), music, and release.
Growing Pains: Puberty in Horror Films (27:10, HD) – an interesting (if not a bit low-energy) panel discussion with journalists/filmmakers/fans Kristy Jett, Axelle Carolyn, Heidi Honeycutt, and Rebekah McKendry comparing various horror films that revolve around puberty (though not exclusively feminine).
Commentary with Fawcett
Commentary with Walton
Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by Fawcett or Walton (not on the same track, 25:10, SD)
The Making of Ginger Snaps vintage featurette (4:50, SD)
Creation of the Beast vintage featurette (5:00, SD)
Being John Fawcett vintage featurette (2:00, SD)
Cast auditions and rehearsals (17:50, SD)
Production design and artwork photo gallery
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