Judge Patrick Bromley snapped two weeks ago.
Our review of Ginger Snaps, published November 21st, 2001, is also available.
They don't call it the curse for nothing.
The Canadian cult classic makes its high def debut in yet another outstanding release from Scream Factory, the Criterion Collection of genre cinema.
Facts of the Case
Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins, She's the Man) and Ginger Fitzgerald (Katherine Isabelle, Freddy vs. Jason) are sisters and outcasts in their Toronto high school. Known for being obsessed with death and labeled "freaks" by their peers, the girls only have one another to depend on. One night, they're attacked by some sort of giant animal. Ginger is bit. From then on, things start to change for the Fitzgerald sisters. Ginger takes a new interest in boys—in sex—in killing and eating living things.
Part werewolf movie, part black comedy, part coming of age film, the best thing that can be said about Ginger Snaps is that it's very much its own thing.
This isn't a traditional werewolf movie. No one involved in its making was interested in doing that. There are no full moon fears, no transformation set pieces. Yes, the movie works as a horror movie in that a character is attacked by a monster then slowly becomes one, killing people off along the way. But the true horrors of Ginger Snaps are more psychological. It's a movie about watching someone you love change and pull away from you. The movie is rarely subtle about its central metaphor—puberty as lycanthropy—but that doesn't make it any less effective. There are heavy shades of Buffy the Vampire Slayer running through the movie (the TV show, not the movie), both in the way that it uses horror tropes to stand in for the perils of growing up and navigating high school and for the way it combines genre elements with a kind of sarcastic energy. It's not derivative of Joss Whedon's show—each work comes by its own style honestly—but if you're a fan of one it's a good indicator of whether or not you'll dig the other.
At the center of the movie is the relationship between the two sisters, played by Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabelle. The film would fall apart if either actress weren't up to the challenge, but both manage to create wonderful characters in very different ways. Isabelle has the "showier" role—she gets to be the spunky rebel, then the sexy vamp and finally the big, mean monster. She's less a performer here than a force of nature, and it's easy to see how she would go on to bigger roles in things like American Mary and NBC's Hannibal. Perkins has the more difficult job, as she has to play the meek introvert who finds she's much stronger than she ever knew—though that's never explicitly stated, as it might be in a lesser film. Perkins performance is also a good barometer of the movie's tone. She has a specific wide-eyed stare that she uses often, sometimes for comic effect and sometimes to express genuine horror. Whether you're laughing when she does it or feeling sympathy is a good indicator of where the movie wants you to be emotionally.
Ultimately, it's the sum total of their performances that make Ginger Snaps special, as it is a movie about the relationship between the two sisters. In that, the movie is quite successful. The "us versus the world" dynamic created by the two actresses (and screenwriter Karen Walton) changes the shape of the entire film, which could have easily been about a traditional pair of sisters and held on to all of its puberty subtext but would have lost so much of its resonance (without spoiling anything, the final image in the movie is devastatingly heartbreaking). It's what gives the movie lasting power beyond its own hook—even beyond the performances or the funny sequences and enormous (practical!) monster creations. Ginger Snaps is a horror movie with a soul.
Scream Factory brings Ginger Snaps to Blu-ray in a very solid 1.78:1 1080p transfer that's strong on detail, keeps colors vivid and balanced and shows no major signs of wear or age. Two different lossless audio tracks are offered: the first a traditional stereo and the second a remixed 5.1 surround track that makes greater use of dimensionality and plays around more with atmospheric effects and Michael Shields score. Both tracks are good, but I prefer the 5.1.
The fantastic array of bonus features are kicked off by a pair of commentaries, one from director John Fawcett and the second from screenwriter Karen Walton. This is one of those instances where both tracks are well worth listening to and contain very little overlap, with Fawcett giving a good overview of his intentions and the production and Walton expounding more on the film's themes, feminist overtones and where it fits into the genre as a whole (though she begins the commentary by talking about how much she disliked the horror genre, which may be off-putting for some in the first few minutes—stick with it). The best extra is retrospective documentary on the making of the movie featuring many of the major participants (though Isabelle is notably absent). Scream Factory almost always includes these kinds of featurettes, but this one runs more than twice the usual length (clocking in at over an hour) and, as such, is able to go more in depth about the making of this cult classic. There's a nearly-30 minute panel discussion of female-driven horror movies, a short look at the creation of the wolf monster, an archival featurette consisting of interviews, a short look at Fawcett working with the actors and nearly 20 minutes of rehearsal footage.
Also included is nearly a half hour of deleted scenes, also playable with commentary by Fawcett or Walton, as well as a collection of original trailers and TV spots. A standard def DVD copy of the movie is also included, which contains all of the same bonus features.
Ginger Snaps became enough of a cult success to warrant two sequel/prequels, Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning. As of this writing, I have seen neither. For now I intend to keep it that way. Scream Factory's excellent Blu-ray release has reminded me that this is a singular, special movie. I prefer to leave the Fitzgerald sisters where they are.
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