Lionsgate // 2004 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // October 25th, 2004
Is the third time a charm for the Ginger Snaps series? After a very strong debut (Ginger Snaps) and a smart sequel (Ginger Snaps Unleashed), the girls are back in a prequel that takes us back to the frontier days of 19th century Canada. It's a radical and brave departure that turns out to be a worthwhile addition to the series. Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning is a historical "re-imagining" of the first film that allows Katharine Isabelle (Freddy vs. Jason) and Emily Perkins (Prozac Nation) to get all wolfy one more time. It's not quite up to snuff with what came before, but it still takes Canadian horror above and beyond anything Hollywood has been cranking out lately. Canuck horror master David Cronenberg (Videodrome) would be proud.
Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are drifters wandering through the New Canadian wilderness when fate intervenes. First their horse runs off. Then they meet a mysterious Indian woman (Edna Rain) who warns them, "Kill the boy or one sister will kill the other." Only moments later Brigitte is caught in a bear trap, and a mysterious Indian hunter shows up (Nathaniel Arcand, Black Cloud). He leads them back to a fur trading outpost named Fort Bailey. Soon the girls find they are taking refuge in a fort that is being besieged by werewolves, and the lycanthropes are slowly knocking the men off one by one. Ginger is bit by the commanding officer's feral son (who is in the midst of changing into a beast), and the horror begins. The race is on for Brigitte and Ginger to find out how to keep their promise of "Together forever!" before all hell breaks loose. But leave it up to our girls to unleash a little hell themselves before it's all over.
The makers of the Ginger Snaps films deserve some kind of award for constantly reinventing their franchise in a genre where most are content to repeatedly produce the same product ad nauseum (yeah, Friday the 13th and Halloween -- I'm looking at you). Each movie has its own tone, look, and feel, with little repetition among the three films (other than the "werewolf" and "sisters" motifs). This installment drops the girls into a scenario that recalls Ravenous to a degree, and overlays the first film's plot onto it. It could have been a lazy effort, but the artistry and turns allow it to feel unique despite the obvious parallels. Yet it does still feel like a sequel, and I wouldn't recommend it to people who have not seen the original two. The story stands alone, but the relationships are written in shorthand -- you need prior knowledge of the bond between Ginger and Brigitte to get it.
The cinematography makes this chapter the best-looking of the three, and the werewolves have been improved considerably. Costumes and production values are very high, and they have worked miracles to make a period piece on a tight budget. Both Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins are at the top of their games, ready to sink their acting teeth into the Fitzgerald sisters one more time. Everything seems to be in place to make this the ultimate sequel -- but then we get to the script. Ginger Snaps Back began production only two weeks after Ginger Snaps Unleashed finished filming. They were under the gun to go ahead with the project, but the script had not been finished when work began. It's still a pretty okay story, but it makes you wonder what would have happened had they fleshed it out a little more. The first movie was brilliantly connected to the ideas of puberty and the changes that a girl goes through as she transitions to womanhood. The second movie moved into more of a dark meditation on addiction and dependence. I honestly can't tell you what the metaphor here is. There's a lot of mysticism and contemplations on fate and destiny, but they never add up to the cohesive mix the other two films achieved. It feels as lost as the girls are out in the wilderness.
Another gripe I have is that the girls seem to be the same girls from the other two movies transplanted into the story. That is the concept, but here they are surrounded by frontier types, but they seem to have a modern day mindset. They speak like teenagers today. It has obviously confused some people on the Internet, who have been posting saying that these are actually the same girls, who subsequently live immortally until the first film. To the contrary, these girls are the original pair that found the curse, and initiated events that would make lycanthropy the Fitzgerald destiny. They are not time travelers, or the girls from the first film.
The cast is way too large. It's nice to have plenty of bodies for the impending carnage, but character development takes a backseat in this chapter. The men in the trading outpost are stereotypes common to this kind of story. You have the zealous scary priest, the kindly commanding officer, the spooked doctor, the out-of-control evil second in command, and the cook, to name a few. I hardly got to know any of them, and found myself counting the minutes until they became doggy chow. They are all fine actors, but not given much to do other than inevitably end up screaming while blood gushes from their wounds.
Despite its shortcomings, it is a satisfying two hours. There are some nice twists you won't see coming, and the carnage is well-executed (by the same special effects team that worked on Kill Bill). Finally we get to see werewolves, and they look very good compared to the other outings. The makers refuse to use CGI, resorting instead to practical solutions which gives the film a visceral and real quality. Ginger gets an amazing sequence near the end where she gets to go all Jedi master / Vampire Slayer on select members of the cast (very cool). Emily Perkins has become quite the hottie herself. In her corseted snowy scenes she looks like Snow White with a Gothic twist. Brigitte fits this period better than Ginger, but they both look amazing. And that's the real cherry on top of this trio of movies. Finally, we have two girls as leads in a horror movie who can hold everything together on their own. No need to have a man come save them; they deal with the darkness on their own terms in each film.
Finally the DVD people give this series the respect it deserves, in a region one release. The transfer is artifact-free, and only appears to have some minimal edge enhancement. There is some grain in the dark sequences, but nothing that detracts from a very solid picture. Audio is a robust 5.1 mix that makes the most of the woods and the wolves. We also get deleted scenes, outtakes, production documentaries, and a wonderfully fun group commentary from the director and key members of the crew. They acknowledge the shortcomings of the film, and talk good-naturedly about what it was like to carry the torch in the third stretch of this series.
The film moves a little slowly, and feels weighed down with too many characters. Fans of Ginger Snaps may contend this is the weakest in the series, but at least it has the good sense to forge some new ground. I'll suffer through anything to see Brigitte and Ginger together one more time, but they could have fine tuned this one a little more. I hope they stop here, and do not go forward with any more different takes on this Gothic duo. I shudder to think of Ginger Snaps Back to the Future, where the girls end up on the moon in space suits, or some other ill-conceived way to make a quick buck. Let sleeping dogs lie.
Want to know how this story ties in with the other two? Here are some things I noticed that might help you. In the original movie the Fitzgerald girls lived in Bailey Downs, and here they end up at Fort Bailey. There are several flashes from the original Ginger Snaps in the dream sequences, and watch for the girls to assume similar positions throughout the movie. Notice the necklaces and blood pacts the girls make. There is a lot of talk of destiny, and you get to find out why werewolves are in Canada. It all makes spiritual sense, and is in line with the story as a whole.
It's not as strong as the original flick, but as sequels go, it's fine. This series has proved it has strength and class for a horror trilogy. I'd like to see the cast and crew together again some day, but maybe on a totally new project that has nothing to do with werewolves. Ginger Snaps: The Beginning is a little long in the tooth, but I'm happy to add it to my pack of Canadian werewolf movies. For all the strength they lose in the script, they more than compensate with a wonderfully designed production that looks as beautiful as its two leads. I hope this is it for the series. But considering there are seven Children of the Corn movies out there, I wonder if they will leave well enough alone.
Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle rock, and they are free to go find new projects with which to amaze us. The makers of Ginger Snaps are charged with finding new horrors to spring on us North Americans, as long as its a new story.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
* Director Grant Harvey's Video Diary
* Wolfboy Special Effects Make-up and Stunt Rehearsal
* "Blood, Guts and Fire" -- Death Scene Special Effects and Stunts
* Production Design Walk-Through
* Costume Design
* Behind-the-scenes Sneak Peek
* "Fun on the Set" Featurette
* Commentary with Director Grant Harvey and Crew
* Fan Site
* Review of Earlier Films