There are probably times when both of my readers think I go a little far with the subtext. All redheads are witches, a cave is a giant digestive tract and 9/11 was Cthulhu’s fault are all things I’ve read into past Now Fear This entries. It’s nice when a film serves its subtext up front to the point. That way I can save time on my analysis and continue my work on perfecting my future line of jams and jellies. This week’s entry, Ginger Snaps, is about puberty and werewolves.
The film is set in the depressing suburban Bailey Downs, which apparently exists solely to prove that Canada has crushing cultural decay. Bailey Downs has a problem, beyond the perpetually gray skies and identical houses: a creature stalks the neighborhood, tearing apart local dogs. Since it’s Canada, the culprit could be a bear, a wendigo or Weapon X. The first scene of the film ties blood with the loss of innocence when a child discovers his dog’s severed paw.
As mother and child freak the hell out, local goth girl Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) sullenly watches, holding what looks like the tools for a pretty significant massacre of her own. Instead, she goes into her basement to report the news to her older and hotter sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle). As it turns out, the girls are doing some sort of project for school. They’re taking pictures of each other in staged suicides. I have no idea what the assignment is, and whatever it was, it’s clear that a Lars Von Trier slideshow wasn’t what the teacher had in mind. Ginger and Brigitte have a morbid fascination with suicide, even swearing that they’ll kill themselves before adulthood: “Out by sixteen or dead in the scene, but together forever.” Brigitte has reservations, but Ginger, the dominant one, dismisses them.
This is essential in establishing the most important relationship of the film. Ginger and Brigitte are a single creature in two bodies, and that creature is Ginger Fitzgerald. Ginger, the elder, takes the lead in all things and protects her younger sister from the world. Ginger has a very specific idea about what will happen for both of them. Brigitte’s plans don’t really enter into it. The tension comes when Ginger changes, leaving Brigitte rudderless, which in turn saps Ginger’s control over her little sister. Ginger gets to grow up, but paradoxically wants Brigitte to stay a child.
Normally, the menstrual status of film heroines isn’t important. We have no idea where Ellen Ripley was in her cycle when she blew the monster out into space. We don’t know if the ladies in The Descent had managed to sync up. We do have some idea where Sarah Connor was, but that’s neither here nor there. Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald have never had their periods. Not once. This is despite Ginger being sixteen and Brigitte fifteen. And yes, this means that two characters named Ginger and Brigitte Fitz-fucking-gerald are Irish twins. Even in Canada, the lovely ladies of the Emerald Isles have still never heard of latex. Anyway, the reason neither girl has fallen to the communists is just that: they are girls, not women.
Ginger, being an overachiever, manages to get two curses at once. While on a late night mission to prank Trina, a girl who bullies Brigitte, they come across another one of the Beast of Bailey Downs’s canine victims. As they inspect the still warm body, Brigitte points out some blood on Ginger’s leg. It’s not from the dog. “I’ve got the Curse, B,” Ginger says. Because werewolves are suckers for metaphor, the Beast immediately attacks, ushering Ginger into a form of super-womanhood. Blood continues to serve as a symbol for lost innocence as the Beast first attacks Ginger’s inner thigh (the creature’s human circumcised penis is later found in a van’s grille, if there was any doubt over gender). Ginger later equates cannibalism to sex when she expresses disgust over eating Trina. Not because eating people is wrong (something I learned in kindergarten), but because that’s a little too close to fucking her.
Either way, it’s an attempt to consume another person. Before Ginger ever became a woman or a werewolf, she had nearly consumed her younger sister. Afterward, it’s attempt to destroy any aspect of Brigitte’s life that doesn’t revolve around Ginger. Brigitte tries to reconnect with her sister over some light cannibalism, essentially rejecting her innocence, but finds that she can’t. She will stay her own girl, to become her own woman at her own goddamn pace, thank you. It’s the moment when Brigitte finally breaks with her sister, reborn as a single, powerful creature.
The school nurse helpfully outlines Ginger’s change. “A thick, syrupy voluminous discharge is not uncommon… in three to five days, you’ll find lighter bright red bleeding, that may turn to brownish or blackish sludge which signals the end of the flow.” The blood in the initial attack is thick and syrupy. The blood Ginger draws from Trina and the neighbor dog is much lighter, and during her final change, Ginger vomits up a thick black sludge.
The werewolf symptoms follow the basics of puberty. Hair where there wasn’t any, brand new urges and of course a small tail, which my mother assured me was entirely normal. Ginger’s super-womanhood is contagious, and there’s no doubt that it’s womanhood rather than simple puberty. She gives into the advances of a classmate, but during their encounter, she’s the one that assumes control, after taking offense to his question: “Who’s the guy here?” Later, after he contracts the curse, he menstruates out of his penis. Not making that up. He’s only cured after Brigitte penetrates him with a needle filled with extract of monkshood. Super-womanhood can be cured only with a second enforced feminization.
My favorite season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the first. I’m genuinely baffled by those who look at it as the weakest, since it was like watching a low-budget short horror film every week. This was back when Joss Whedon still knew how to write, before he started to equate sticking feathers up his butt with being a chicken. The lack of money forces creativity on filmmakers, often leading to innovative solutions like relying on hiding the creature, leaning on dialogue and metaphor, and generally being much more awesome. Can you imagine how bad Jaws would have been if Spielberg could have counted on the animatronic shark? Or Alien if Scott had paraded around that awful suit? Ginger Snaps spends the bulk of the film hiding the unconvincing werewolf costumes, using subtle make up and excellent gore to carry the effects. The few scenes that prominently feature the puppet hide it the best they can, and when they can’t, at least the suit actually looks like it’s in the room, something only the best CGI can manage.
Horror has always loved its heroines, but it’s rare to have a powerful female voice speak on a subject that often turns men green. Ginger Snaps is a feminist horror film, but more importantly, it’s a great horror film. Ginger and Brigitte are real characters with a powerful and subtle relationship. Frustrated by prescribed gender roles, they want to grow up on their own terms. Really, it’s Ginger who says it best when talking about hiding the body of her recent victim: “No one thinks chicks do shit like this. A girl can only be a slut, bitch, tease or the virgin next door.”
Turns out they can be whatever they want to be. Even werewolves.