Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ginger Snaps twice

The Fitzgerald sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, are two high school girls who are the proverbial outsiders: they don't fit in with the "in" crowd. They are morbid. They vow when the time comes they will die together. They take photographs of themselves in elaborately staged death scenes for a slide show in a class. The teacher is disgusted, but one of the boys in the class speaks up, "Can we see the ones with Ginger again?"

That's because Ginger can be very sexy.

Her sister, Brigitte, is an introvert, appalled by Ginger's behavior.

The movie, Ginger Snaps, catches the sisters just as Ginger experiences her first menstrual period. Simultaneously in their suburban community there is some sort of wild animal attacking and killing the local dogs. That doesn't seem to bother Ginger and Brigitte, who go out for a walk at night. They are attacked by the creature, who is attracted by Ginger's period. The attack is thwarted, and the creature is killed when hit in the street by a van. Ginger is wounded but won't tell her parents. Oddly enough, her wounds begin to quickly heal...

Oops. That means that Ginger has been bitten by a werewolf, and is infected.

Ginger Snaps, despite its clever punning title, is a horror movie, and works on a couple of levels. First, there are the girls and their teenage angst. They have enemies at school, including a group of mean girls. Ginger has the interest of one boy in particular, and she uses it. When she ovulates she goes after him and they have sex (off camera, darn it). He tells his friends in the bleachers, "Ginger Fitzgerald rocked my world!" to a round of high fives. Then there is the creature, barely seen, then killed, with Ginger gradually becoming a werewolf herself.

Brigitte takes it upon herself to find a cure for Ginger's lycanthropy, devising a solution from the plant, Monkshood. It's poison, but not in small doses. It retards the advance of the werewolf condition. But poor Ginger is doomed, despite Brigitte's help. At the end of the movie Brigitte is also infected.

The movie, a 2000 Canadian import, stars Katherine Isabelle as Ginger, and Emily Perkins as Brigitte. Both are excellent actors, and Perkins is good enough to get top billing. They're older by a few years than the characters they play (Isabelle was 19 playing 16, Perkins was 23 playing 15), and both had been child actors with a stack of credits on the Internet Movie Database. Despite their youth Ginger Snaps shows how professional and accomplished both are at their craft.

It's not a big budget movie, which means its strength comes from the story and its believable characters. It does an effective job building suspense as Ginger changes. Maybe because of the budget, the scenes with a monstrous werewolf are very carefully edited. The monster is not totally convincing.

Sometimes it looks like a large puppet, sometimes it looks like a man in a costume. But with sound effects, music, and action in the dark covering the beast's imperfections, the scenes are skilfully done. Budget aside, Ginger Snaps is an unexpected pleasure on all levels, with the actors' performances of a witty and suspenseful script giving the movie much credibility with the audience, even if the monster is lacking.

Ginger Snaps begat Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, from 2004. As we saw at the end of Ginger Snaps, Brigitte has infected herself to share Ginger's fate. Ginger is only in this movie as seen in Brigitte's imagination, a Cassandra telling Brigitte how doomed she is.

The sequel, with Emily Perkins as Brigitte in virtually every scene, is a different movie from the original, but in some ways may be better. The script lacks the morbid humor of the original, but is suspenseful. No, the monster tracking Brigitte still isn't very convincing, but Brigitte is.

Brigitte, in order to stall the progression of her own lycanthropy, is hiding in a motel from her stalker, a werewolf, and taking intravenous doses of monkshood. She overdoses and ends up in a rehab center with more mean girls, and a comic book-reading girl called Ghost, who attends to her burned grandmother. Ghost is the blonde girl to Brigitte's right.

Deprived of the monkshood, Brigitte begins her inevitable slide into becoming a werewolf. She is taken advantage of by a rehab center employee, Troy, who trades drugs for sex. Poor Brigitte multiplies her problems as the movie goes on.

Brigitte and Ghost escape the center. They steal one of their cars, and head for Ghost's home, now empty since the grandmother was so badly burned. It's there where the final showdown occurs between Brigitte and everyone and everything stalking her.

Brigitte is a resourceful and determined character, but her doom is assured (this is a horror movie, after all), but then, so is the doom of about everyone else, too, including the werewolf.

Both movies are great for Halloween viewing. There was a third movie, making this series a trilogy, but for some reason the setting for the characters is in the Canadian wilderness of over a century ago. I have never been able to watch it.


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