You’re not going to believe it, but werewolves used to be scary. No, seriously. There was a time before they were cuddly shapeshifters obsessed with ab workouts and photogenic brooding. The rise of urban fantasy and paranormal romance has stripped the menace out of many classic bogeymen, forcing horror writers to become more creative in the birth of new monsters or mining classic beasties for those last few nuggets of fear. Other than the poor, defanged vampire, werewolves have suffered the most under the new regime of sexy creatures, so it’s nice to find a film unapologetically reaching for the root of the legend and surrounding it with rich meaning and disturbing scares. That film is Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, the second film in the Canadian werewolf trilogy.
Ginger Snaps was very clear, some might even say heavy-handed, in its treatment of lycanthropy as a thinly-disguised metaphor for puberty in the double-X chromosome set. Its sequel isn’t as focused, but is a more compelling experience for it. By exploring multiple themes within its simple narrative, it creates a dense, interesting story that breezes by like the best creature features.
The film picks up some time after the original. Brigette, after killing her elder sister-turned-werewolf Ginger, is on the run. During her final battle, Brigette exposed herself to lycanthropy and has adopted a rigorous and disturbing regimen to keep from falling to the wolf. She cuts her arms, chronicling how long it takes for the cuts to heal. She shaves the rapidly encroaching hair from her body. She shoots poisonous monkshood into her veins, provoking agonizing allergic reactions that only serve to delay the change. To make matters worse, she’s being pursued by another werewolf whose identity is never confirmed, but whose motives are disturbing. She lives the life of a nomadic junkie fleeing an abusive boyfriend.
After a bad reaction to her anti-lycanthropy injection and a werewolf attack, Brigette gets thrown into a long-term care and rehab center. The staff ranges from the predatory orderly Tyler who trades sexual favors for the patients’ highs to the well-meaning Alice whose experience has not prepared her for someone with Brigette’s condition. Brigette befriends Ghost, a young girl who is staying with her grandmother, covered head-to-toe in bandages after a house fire. Eventually, the werewolf finds Brigette, and breaks into the asylum to get what he wants. Meanwhile, the interruption of her monkshood treatments has caused the lycathropy to progress. She and Ghost flee to Ghost’s house, where they are later joined by Tyler, and wait for the monster to arrive. As they do, Brigette discovers something far darker, which is mostly surprising since she figured she already topped out on that particular scale. Without spoiling anything, the film ends on a pitch black note perfectly uniting the disparate themes within.
I’ve mentioned theme several times in relation to Ginger Snaps 2, which is odd considering the ridiculous title. A title like that, you figure maybe maybe it’s a fun little werewolf romp, and it definitely has boobs. Sorry, no. Instead you get these pansy-ass intellectual themes that are crack to a horror fan like me. The first is the concept of innocence. Brigette was an innocent in the first film by every definition of the word. This continues through this one, both in the sense of innocence equating to sexual inexperience (though Tyler periodically gives Brigette her monkshood, she never reciprocates as the other girls do) and in the sense of being innocent of a crime. She’s initially found at a bloody crime scene and Ghost accuses her of killing the center’s dog. There are other instances that unfortunately stray into spoiler territory, but rest assured they throw the plot into stark relief. Lastly, as though to signal the audience of its importance, a single shot of a nurse completing a word search, she circles the word “INNOCENT.”
Appropriately, Ginger Snaps 2 extends the feminist metaphor of the first film, but for another phase of a young woman’s life. The first was about puberty, and this is about college. A young woman is forced to live with a bunch of strangers, integrate into a new social order, and is exposed to the manifold dangers that come with it. College was the first time I was cognizant of the rampant danger of sexual assault for women. Maybe it was the progressive school, maybe it was the time I went, but rape went from never being talked about to the top thing on everyone’s mind. College heralds the end of constant parental oversight, and where there is freedom, perverts will exploit it.
Which brings us to another important theme in the film: the masculine psyche. Brigette is surrounded at all times by avatars of Freudian psychic apparatus. The werewolf pursuing her does so with the goal of mating and he has no compunctions against the fact that this would not be consensual. Nope, he generally breaks into wherever Brigette is (clear rape imagery), kills the living fuck out of anyone with her (usually, though not always perceived rivals), and tries to get to work. The werewolf kills a librarian early on, who had flirted with Brigette and then followed her home. Creep behavior to be sure, but when he sees her allergic reaction to the monkshood, he leaps into action to get her some help, clear action of the super-ego. Meanwhile, Tyler, with his predatory economy, functions as the ego, the realist getting what he can from life. He shows flashes of both id and even super-ego with the hints of a conscience we see throughout. It is appropriate that in the pitch black world of Ginger Snaps, ego and super-ego are helpless against the rapacious id.
Birthing imagery plays a large part in tying together the twin themes of innocence and the destructive power of the male. Brigette crawls through tunnels at several points, and in one case escapes through a crematorium oven. This ties the idea of rebirth with death, which many a fortune teller has used to calm a jumpy patron at the sight of the Death card. Twice in the film, industrial plastic wrap, used in construction, is employed to separate one of the female characters from the werewolf. It looks like a birthing caul, and is a strong physical reminder that the bite of the lycanthrope can give either death or monstrous rebirth.
Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed is the best kind of sequel: one that takes the story in an exciting new direction while staying true to the characters, story, and central metaphor. Whenever a conversation begins about sequels surpassing originals, this is one that pops instantly into my mind.