The world of horror is vast. With so many films across the spectrum of budget, studio involvement, quality, availability, and, above all else, pure scare-the-living-shit-out-of-you-ness, it helps to have trained professionals parse through some of the older and/or lesser-known offerings. That's where Team Fangrrls comes in with Deep Cuts, our series dedicated to bringing the hidden gems of horror out of the vault and into your nightmares. Today we're examining early-aughts sanguinary sisterhood werewolf flick Ginger Snaps.
Growing up is hard. If there’s one core message to be garnered from Ginger Snaps, it’s that adulthood (and all the trappings that come with it, supernaturally influenced or otherwise) is seriously overrated. Such is the philosophy of inseparable teenage sisters Brigitte and Ginger Fitzgerald, who bemoan the trials of maturity while spending their days obsessed with the macabre. It’s this unique fixation with death, guts, and gore that ostracizes them at their high school, making them the target of popular girl bullies and the fetish of immature, hormone-fueled boys alike. Meanwhile, a mysterious animal dubbed “the Beast of Bailey Downs” has been terrorizing the peaceful suburb, eviscerating neighborhood dogs and discouraging citizens from going out at night. When Brigitte and Ginger decide to sneak out to pull a prank on mean girl Trina, Ginger unexpectedly gets her first period — which results in her being attacked by the Beast. Said Beast turns out to be a werewolf, and as the film continues both sisters have to cope with the ramifications of the event as Ginger transforms from relatively innocent girl to voracious monster.
The link between the female coming-of-age story and the supernatural is one that gets frequent use within the horror genre. In most cases, a female character becomes her most monstrous when she is also her most sexually potent. It’s surprising that there aren’t a higher number of female werewolf movies in existence given the obvious cyclical similarities between a woman’s menses and the monthly occurrence of the full moon. Sometimes, the monster is a metaphor for reaching the next stage of puberty; other times, the two go hand-in-hand, which is the case in Ginger Snaps. Ginger is savagely bitten by a werewolf right when she “officially” becomes a woman (which the sisters refer to as “getting the curse”), and the side effects that manifest as a result could very well be symptoms of menstruation as well as symptoms of lycanthropy: hair growth in new places, aggression, higher sex drive. At one point, well after the changes have already begun, Ginger confesses to Brigitte that what she initially thought was an ache for intimacy is for something much deeper. “I thought it was for sex, but it's to tear everything to f*cking pieces.” Her lust and bloodlust are so intertwined that it’s impossible for her to separate the two, to the point where she feels even more sated by consuming someone than having sex with them.
Ginger Snaps isn’t just a werewolf movie about womanhood-as-metaphor, though; it’s also about sisterhood, and the closer-than-close dynamic Brigitte and Ginger have, a connection that becomes fractured when Ginger begins to shift. Before that fateful night, they’re inseparable, physically and emotionally to the degree that their mother points out they’re “not connected at [the] wrist.” If the option was made available to them, it’s very likely they’d find a way to be surgically attached as well. However, Brigitte is arguably more attached to her older sister and wants to emulate her, which is why Ginger’s later evolution and subsequent obstinance become more of a personal consequence for their relationship. Ginger may be turning into a werewolf, but now that she’s reached a different stage of life than Brigitte their priorities and interests start to diverge, much to Brigitte’s dismay. The sisters are further divided when it comes to searching for a cure for Ginger; while Brigitte looks up methods in the hope that something will work, Ginger is savoring the benefits of her change, defying her sister’s warnings at every turn.
It’s why Brigitte’s platonic reliance on a male ally in the midst of her upheaval with Ginger is so refreshing. Gone is the girl who initially balked at the concept of becoming romantically involved with a boy (because gross), but Brigitte’s partnership with local drug dealer Sam is only partly selfishly motivated. Yes, she wants her sister back, but he’s also the only one who she feels she can trust to even share her sister’s secret with, let alone help her try to find a cure. The film does present it as though Brigitte has a crush on Sam, but for the most part, his character sidesteps the “bad boy” trope and their relationship stays pretty tame in contrast to Ginger’s new promiscuity and unshakable desire for bloodshed. Brigitte doesn’t know who she can turn to once she and Ginger are on the outs, and Sam gives her the support she needs. Ultimately, though, when it’s time to make a particularly hard decision, it comes down to the two sisters who are bonded in blood, yet divided by their choices.
Ginger Snaps gets particularly bloody at times, an aspect that made finding a home for the film difficult to begin within the wake of violent teen shootings at schools in both Canada and the U.S. One could argue that the carnage the movie presents is crucial given the complicated binary illustrated through the character of Ginger Fitzgerald, who explores what it means to be a monster as well as a woman. There’s a benefit to Ginger Snaps not shying away from the particularly messy aspects of either; it creates a more authentic story about the trials of growing up, only with a supernatural twist. In the near-two decades since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Ginger Snaps has acquired a definitive cult following, which led to it finding a new lease on life and a subsequent two feature sequels. Within the horror community, it’s frequently regarded as one of the most underrated werewolf movies of its decade, let alone the genre itself — and it's an honor that's more than well-deserved.