Dir. John Fawcett
Film #15, of Monday 15th October, for Halloween 31 For 31
Puberty and growing up is a cruel process. Even in one’s early twenties, after one’s body has finished its maturity, the psychological aimlessness can be more pronounced then it was as a teenager. It is cumbersome, awkward, painful, and in my own case filled with as much romantic and sexual love as there is water in the rivers of a desert. That I am a male does put me in a position that, careful with my words, I cannot fully understand what it would be like to be a girl growing up, both the emotional changes and the physical changes. That I am male and cannot fully understand from personal experience may yet help me though understand how unreal adolescence and becoming a teenager must be for a girl too. Growing up with an older sister as she went through her teens, and having prominent female friends at secondary school, Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) are not that far off from real people who I have known broken down into fragments. Unlike my sister, who went through Goth clothing and a constant stream of Disturbed/Marilyn Manson/Rammstein blasting out of her bedroom, or the girls I knew at secondary school who combined Goth and heavy metal with drum kit playing and a passing interest for Satanism, the Fitzgeralds take a more extreme step in creating elaborate suicide and death scenes for a camera, the photographs showing their work making up the opening credits.
Completely inseparable, the sisters find themselves disconnected when Ginger is bitten by a lycanthrope. From there, the metaphor of burgeoning adulthood is literally shown when her first period takes place just before inheriting the blood of a werewolf. Written by Karen Walton from a story collaborated on with the director, it is very blatant and blunt in its ideas, but the twisting of this metaphor in a horror film with comedy and serious drama is very well done too, the obviousness of them prevented from being surface level by a wit to the writing. It is also a film that, while having many of the traits of horror films of the time, a decade or so after music videos were born and started influencing films, never descends into the most generic of structures. The director John Fawcett uses the well worn stylistic choices in a way that prevents them from being in front of the script and tone and to drag the final work down. Music over scenes designed to evoke emotions in the viewer, montages, and the sort of tropes found amongst late 1990s and early 2000s horror cinema, or at least feels so from my perspective growing up with them, are all used properly with other cinematic techniques like Dutch tilts, handheld camera etc. for the right scenes and at the right time; for a great example of this, the moment when Ginger first walks through the school hallway as her new self, turning the heads of male students, and music plays over the visuals as seen in many other movies. The music of the period, such as Machine Head, feels part of the time period but thankfully is used in ways that fit the scenes and avoid the datedness many films from the time have gone through. (Thankfully the Canadian film avoided pop punk and nu-metal, the mainstays of the period. Someone must have gone into the future and informed the production of the dangers of using bands such as The Offspring regardless of them being a good band or not).
And the film has a heart. One of two Canadian genre films I grew up with as an adolescent alongside Cube (1997), revisiting it within this year or so after such an absence away from it proved invigorating and by the end of the film emotionally heart jerking. Yes, it is a very gory film and intentionally ridiculous, its script feeling the influence of Scream (1996) writer Kevin Williamson without the smartarse smugness of that film, but it still takes the anxieties of a young woman growing up seriously. That I have grown up with girls and women much more profoundly outspoken, charismatic, and influential in most areas in my life for me than fellow males has had an effect on how I view Ginger Snaps, Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald’s dialogue, and that of the other female characters their age in the film, littered with causal swearing and snappy comebacks and insults, reminiscent of a condensed and stronger version of how the girls in my year at secondary school acted and spoken, in class or behind the library block smoking, put within a metaphorical blender.
Even the violence is pushed into moments more personal than merely gore, both in the crossing of it with incredibly black humour and the emphasis on the smaller details that are more painful to see and imagine. An improvised belly button piercing, another symbol of growing up for many, is a far more gruesome and cringe worthy effect than if someone’s head was to be knocked off with a wolf claw like a tennis ball with a racket. That such extreme images are crossed with the ordinary suits how puberty and adulthood are strange, almost body horror situations, for both genders. The taboo and hostility with menstruation and menstrual blood, an ordinary biological function, is played with as Ginger and Brigitte suggest a period as a serious injury to a female medical councillor in one extended scene. STDs are also briefly brought into the lycanthrope metaphors, with quite ridiculous and leg crossing results, almost turning unintentionally into something out of Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles (1989), in tone and facial prosthetics, if it wasn’t for the writer and director pulling it away from goofy ghoulishness.
As has been established in one of the early reviews for this Halloween season, I have been incredibly cold about genre films from the 2000s onwards. Part of the problem is not just the technological side I have delved into before, but also that many of the films are merely repetitions of previous decades, beyond generic writing of said decades but purposely copying the films of before in this post-post-modern era, without any sense of their own personalities or a punch to them. While, on the cusp of the late 1990s, you could argue Ginger Snaps is closer to that decade, it is the kind of genre film that does catch my breath. Not winkingly ironic, not violent for the sake of violence with a pretentious streak (Martyrs (2008) or The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)), not an ironic film that pretend to be bad rather than sincere exploitation (ie. why Canada’s Hobo With A Shotgun (2011) stands far and above all the tedious ‘Grindhouse’ revival films I’ve seen in terms of quality), or compromised into being jump-scare structured, 15 certificate/PG-13 repetition of even fan acclaimed films. You can argue Ginger Snaps has the pacing and use of horror scenes of the later examples, but as stated the director John Fawcett uses the conventions of 90s horror cinema properly for impact and effect rather than let them scrape away the rough edges of the film and sanitise it. He is followed by a very good script by Karen Walton and a solid and remarkable cast led by Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins, the former heading a 2012 film American Mary (by Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska) which I am very interested to see within the year or so. To ignore this, even if you were to find it not as good as I did upon viewing it, in favour of more overrated and excessively quoted films of the last decade is to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich. The Canadians, even if I’ve seen only a few of their genre films, apparently got the memo about making films that are actually interesting, from Cronenberg to this, and make some of their cousins down south look like said ignorant ostriches with their heads in the ground.