Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Days of Horror: Ginger Snaps

Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins play sisters on the verge of womanhood and so much more in Ginger Snaps.

In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.

Day 20: Ginger Snaps (2000)

This post will be a little graphic. Even for a month dedicated to discussing gore and bloody mayhem across nearly a century’s worth of horror films, this post will be graphic for some people, so bear with me. Ginger Snaps presents a traditional werewolf narrative in a way that is both on the nose and surprising, it features two fantastic performances from its co-leads, and it mercifully puts to rest the idea that a horror film needs a male character in either a protagonist or an antagonist role.

One need not count too high to list the horror films with a female hero and female villain, wherein men are not simply shoehorned into the plot for the sake of testosterone. The film’s writer, Karen Walton, was initially reluctant to take on the project because of the historical treatment of women in horror films. Director John Fawcett assured her this would be different, and the filmmakers set out to create a movie that employs traditional techniques in wholly unique ways. On all fronts, they succeeded.

Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle star as sisters Brigette and Ginger. They are the outcast girls, the Goths, the kids in school no one approaches, and that is just fine with them. They have their own world. Despite being high school age, neither has hit puberty, a concern for their over-sharing, busy-body mother and something their father would rather never think about or discuss. One night while out for a walk, plotting their revenge on a bully, Ginger gets her first period, and the sisters are attacked by a werewolf.

Here is the wonderful thing about this movie. It is possible, even easy, to ascribe meaning to events and symbols that may or may not have any inherent meaning. A viewer could read this movie either as an intensely feminist take on a genre known for misogyny or simply as a thrilling, entertaining horror picture with an intriguing gender flip applied to the main characters.

Case in point, Ginger is attacked almost precisely at the moment she begins to menstruate. This could be a clever coincidence, but let us look at it another way. We have a culture in which, I hope we can agree, children are over-sexualized, and young girls in particular are subject to unfortunate hyper-sexualization. One need only look at the Halloween costumes currently on the racks to confirm this. Seen through this lens, what does it mean that the instant Ginger becomes sexually viable, she is attacked by an alpha predator? I am not saying there is intention here, but I am saying the question is there to ask.

We can keep going like this. As Ginger’s transformation into the wolf begins, her peers begin to take notice of her. There is something that draws them to her. It is her newfound sexuality, expressed as a wild lack of inhibition and animalistic savagery within the confines of a high school girl’s form of self-expression. It is the precise kind of fun and crazy girl to whom adolescent boys and immature men are attracted.

There is much overt talk about sex and sexuality in the film and specifically about sexually transmitted diseases. As the werewolf is incubated in Ginger’s still-human body, it takes the outward form of an increased libido, but when she engages in sex, it passes on the “infection.” So now we have lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty and literally as a sexually transmitted disease.

There is still more to ponder about full moons and menstruation, moon cycles and werewolves, but I will let you discover all of that on your own. The point is that it is all there if you wish to look for it, and none of it is there if you choose to ignore it. In this sense, we are all Ginger’s parents as we watch the movie – the mother so delighted by her daughter’s blossoming womanhood and all its disturbing manifestations and the father with his head down, ears covered, and eyes closed to the whole bloody mess.

Tomorrow, we take body horror to a whole other level with the only director qualified to get us there.

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