Ginger Snaps is informed by a sense of earnest and honest humanity, almost radical for an aughts horror film, that should embarrass the dozens of genre movies that regularly offer cackling teens as cynical assholes up for the sawmill. Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is a late bloomer, a 16-year-old who’s yet to have her period, which she wears as a badge of honor that distances her from what she sees as the pitiful “sluts” chasing the boys around the halls. With her in this pact of superiority is her 15-year-old sister, Brigitte (Emily Perkins), herself a late bloomer. The duo’s relationship drastically changes, however, when Ginger gets her period, coincidentally the same day that she’s mauled by a giant creature that’s been killing the neighborhood dogs.
The film’s governing metaphor insists that turning into a woman and a werewolf are initially pretty much the same, as they’re both characterized by back pains, the sprouting of new hair, as well as the intensification of sexual hunger and its attending feelings of guilt-ridden freakiness. The filmmakers, clearly inspired by David Cronenberg’s The Fly, have tweaked conventional werewolf lore a bit to accommodate their conceit. Ginger doesn’t shape-shift back and forth between wolf and increasingly enraged human; instead, we’re seeing one gradual transformation that will eventually end with her permanently living as a monster. The potential resonances are probably endless, but director John Fawcett and screenwriter Karen Walton most vividly communicate the rift that develops between two young friends when one of them begins to mature faster than the other. This is a story of the world coming to crash in on Brigitte and Ginger’s private party, whether it was invited or not, and the girls feel as if they’re being increasingly squeezed into a situation that knows no exit.
In a conventional horror movie, a boy would almost certainly be the lead, or, if a girl were somehow allowed to command the center ring, it would be someone like Ginger: sexy, feisty, a male dream of willing ripeness, even if they might be disingenuously made up to resemble a male casting director’s idea of “smart” (glasses, swept back hair). But Ginger Snaps has been poignantly structured as Brigitte’s potentially disastrous coming of age, as she must learn that she can’t look to Ginger to push the world away for her; she can’t hide behind her hair and her affected gait forever (she walks, in a fashion instantly recognizable to many high school outliers, as if she put her shirt on with the hanger still in it). And when calamity strikes, Brigitte discovers what we already knew: that she was the real rebel, the pair’s true source of strength.
Ginger Snaps has been labeled a feminist horror film, and it is, but in a fashion that’s actually progressive: It empathizes with women casually like it’s no big deal. There aren’t CliffsNotes attached to this film to invite the viewer’s self-congratulation for their political superiority, as there almost certainly would be if the script were written by, say, Daniel Waters or Diablo Cody (who essentially plagiarized Ginger Snaps for her Jennifer’s Body, while managing to entirely miss the former’s point in the process). Brigitte and Ginger aren’t held up as fantasy testaments to our idealistic retrospective notions of who we hope we were when we were teens. No, they play into the same caste system and commit to the same hypocrisies as everyone else, judging and demeaning other girls while resenting the judgment that’s directed at them.
The boys, bullies, and parents aren’t merely established as clueless buffoons in order to justify Brigitte and Ginger’s social estrangement either. We see their pain too (in fact, a bully played by Danielle Hampton has the film’s most heartbreaking line deliveries), just as we see that Ginger and, initially, Brigitte can’t discern others’ pain, as they’re blinded by their own. Even the monster that Ginger eventually becomes has been designed to accentuate the film’s enveloping sense of emotional immediacy: It’s hairless, naked, albino, absolutely exposed, and regards itself as totally alone. The creature’s figuratively and pivotally blind to the brave young woman right by its side, ready to die for her. By this point, Fawcett and Walton have transcended their various fealties to the ghosts of horror films’ past and have arrived at a place that’s bracingly vulnerable and dangerous. Ginger Snaps is a legitimately great teen tragedy that exposes its protagonists’ faux-nihilism for what it truly is: easy.
The image doesn’t sport an aggressively refurbished upgrade from prior home-video editions; it’s soft and grainy, with background details that are occasionally lacking in clarity. But there’s still an inviting earthiness to savor, particularly in the vivid reds, greens, and browns, which honor the film’s effective autumnal atmosphere. The various sound mixes are notably rich in body and dimension, particularly in regard to the ferocious animal noises that are cannily intended to distract from the fact that you don’t see the werewolves all that much. (Jacque Tourneur’s Cat People is probably one of the film’s many influences.) This presentation could’ve been fancier, but the work here suits the film’s appealing lo-fi aesthetic.
Ginger Snaps has been outfitted with a supplements package that’s terrific even for the reliable Shout! Factory. The highlight is the new hour-long collection of interviews with director John Fawcett, screenwriter Karen Walton, actress Emily Perkins, make-up artist Paul Jones, and many others, as everyone is afforded a generous amount of room to discuss shooting conditions, themes, and nostalgic reminiscences. Fawcett memorably recalls his and Walton’s struggles to find a through line for the script, which finally came when one of them had the inspiration to link a menstrual cycle, which is related to a lunar schedule, to the process of werewolf transformation. Plenty of other supplements allow you to dig deeper into the nitty gritty of the film, including separate audio commentaries with Fawcett and Walton, deleted scenes (also with dual optional audio commentaries), audition and rehearsal footage, as well as a "Women in Horror" panel that discusses Ginger Snaps in the context of other pointedly female horror films. This disc has been produced with an eye on the film’s considerable cult following, and it doesn’t shy away from the political outcast subtexts that have informed the film’s acclaim.
One of the great teenage horror films is ushered onto Blu-ray with a sense of long overdue and decidedly fan-centric respect.