In the long history of movies for/about teenage girls, we’ve seen a wide variety of ways to approach the struggles of puberty, coming into your sexuality, growing and sometimes distancing from the important girl friends in your life, etc. I have seen many, but shamefully until recently, I had never actually gotten around to Ginger Snaps. Gingers Snaps is the 2000 horror movie (with a pretty strong comedy thread) following sisters Ginger and Brigitte. They are both obsessed with death, hate everything about their suburban town, and fear becoming like the other people they go to school with, especially boy obsessed girls.
Both are actually late to develop, but Ginger (the older sister) finally starts her period… and gets bitten by a werewolf in the same night. What follows is a twist on the teen girl movie we’ve seen before. Ginger’s burgeoning womanhood is getting tied up with the changes she faces as a werewolf, while her and Brigitte’s relationship becomes strained under the shifts.
I quite liked this take on the standard coming of age movie. I think it allowed the filmmakers to play with the tropes we are used to in unique ways. Ginger, at times, likes her changes. However, Brigitte notices how drastic they are, and even Ginger seems to struggle with them a bit. Ginger’s sexuality goes from something she dreads having to face to something she barely has control over. So much so she sees everybody around her as either a potential victim or predator in the sexual games because she has become a predator herself. Every person who even looks at Brigitte is assumed, by Ginger, to want to take advantage of her.
It also adds an extra layer to the complicated relationship between sisters/friends. A huge part of a lot of these movies is the struggle between girls who were close when they are younger but struggle as they mature and their personalities start to shift. Ginger has always been the stronger, more aggressive sister but is so even more now with the werewolf aspect. Maintaining her strong influence over Brigitte becomes even more important to her than is seemingly standard.
At the same time, Brigitte realizes that she wants to come into her own and get out from underneath Ginger’s thumb but has no desire to lose her in the process. She spends the better part of the movie torn between placating Ginger and going her own way to try and fix the problem and come into her own. Ultimately she can’t do both. So the movie becomes as much about Brigitte’s emotional maturity as it is about Ginger’s physical one.
I will admit the “slutty” (hate that word) “nerdy” girl trope can get old. However, it’s done pretty well in this movie. While Ginger does embrace her sexuality, her anger with Brigitte is a desire to keep her from doing the same. At the same time, Brigitte can’t actually avoid growing up as much as both girls desire to prevent her from doing so, and she has to make choices, like infecting herself to appease Ginger, that will force her into the same womanhood.
It is pretty powerful and well done, if for no other reason, then we get to see these storylines play out in a different way. Watching them both struggle against what is happening to them (just as normal teenagers as with the wolf aspect) is sad but oddly relatable, only you know with a lot more fantasy. Both girls find something different in themselves and respond to it in different ways, much like many of us growing up. Werewolves actually make a lot of sense as an analog for puberty and “blossoming,” even down to the “monthly affliction” level. Look, let’s just say it, going through puberty is kind of a nightmare. You are angry, upset, driven sexually even though you don’t get it, confused, and erratic. It makes sense to compare it to an outside force coming into your body and changing you seemingly against your will.
So while from a story perspective and playing with the tropes of the standard teenage girl movies, I found this movie to be excellent, from a horror perspective, I am a bit more mixed. The movie never felt like it was trying to be super scary in the standard horror sense, so I am not overly disappointed that it wasn’t. There are excellent practical effects and some good gore. However, I feel the movie went more with shock than tension/suspense. Really the climax is the only part with a lot of tension, and even it is sort of lacking.
This is not really a knock. I am a firm believer that the horror genre can be used in many different ways, and this just happens to be one of them. The horror comes more from the idea and the gore than it does from the anxious, tense, scared feelings that other movies can give. There is also an overarching sense of dread with it because Ginger and Brigitte are fairly likable. Yeah, they can be a bit “much,” but they are angsty teenage girls. You know that it is likely that they are not making it out of this situation, and you don’t really want to watch that happen.
So bottom line? Most genre fans have likely already seen this movie. It has a cult following and is well praised for its use of werewolves meets growing up. However, for those that haven’t, it’s an excellently done movie. It is not perfect and shows its age and indy nature in a few moments. However, it is an outstanding concept and again cannot stress the practical and gore effects enough. The story has a few missteps and pacing issues, but it is overall great from start to finish. There is also a decent amount of comedy thrown in. However, I give two warnings. One being there are a lot of dead dogs; you don’t see it happening but a lot of aftermath. The other is that this movie is very much about teenage girls and for girls. Adults and men can certainly enjoy it, but there are pieces that you might not click with and conversations that might make some people uncomfortable. I would recommend a watch or rewatching (several times) and am honestly really glad I finally got around to this movie.