FILM REVIEW: Ginger Snaps (2000)

 "I get this ache... And I, I thought it was for sex, but it's to tear everything to fucking pieces."

Not all horror films’ primary goal is to be scary. There are some that attempt to satire the genre (Scream, Cabin in the Woods, Behind the Mask of Leslie Vernon), others that have more philosophical ideas to convey (Martyrs, Let the Right One In, Kairo), or even films that attempt to experiment and push boundaries (Santa Sangre, Possession). However, there is a notion and mindset by many non-horror fans that all horror films must be scary or else they are unsuccessful. To have this mentality is to narrowly view a large and complex genre. Watching a film like Santa Sangre  or Martyrs  based on its effectiveness to be frightening would rob it of its meaning and value and over-simplify a film that has much larger intentions than to just scare its audience. Unfortunately, this mentality is present, and it causes certain great horror films to fall under the radar, and not receive the attention they deserve.

The movie Ginger Snaps  is just this type of film. Although it has accumulated a cult following over the years, the film’s audience is limited to fans of the genre despite the fact that it has a deep and incredibly well-crafted story. While it has intense moments, it is most importantly a beautiful character study of two sisters and an allegory about growing out of adolescence. The main focus of the script is not on the horror elements (although they are present throughout), but rather what it is to lose somebody that you are close to. The film is so effective because it manages to create a real and genuine relationship between two characters and demonstrate their separation. Ginger Snaps  handles a universal theme sensitively, and as a result is heartbreaking and haunting.

This effectiveness is in part because of how maturely the material is handled (especially from a female perspective by writer Karen Walton), but also because of the phenomenal performances from the two leads, Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle. They are able to brilliantly play their roles in ways that allow for the satiric elements to come out, but then convey the emotions of the script with subtleties. Their relationship feels real, their characters feel complex, and their struggles feel genuine. In fact, Katharine Isabelle’s performance absolutely blows me away every time. Her transformation is handled so intensely and tragically, with moments reflecting the true monster she is becoming, and others that illustrate her humanity and fear. Additionally, the ending is absolutely haunting. The film never loses its grounding in real life, and as a result manages to be just as powerful as any drama.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the film also stem from its feminist slant. As previously discussed, the film is layered with different meanings; the allegory of growing out of adolescence, the metaphor of a woman’s period to that of a werewolf; its character study of two sisters. However, it also reflects the sexist and patriarchal society that women still live in. Multiple times throughout the film, the female leads (including their mother, played by the great Mimi Rogers) demonstrate their understanding of the lives they live, the expectations that are held for them to behave as women, and part of the reason the film is so fascinating is because of how much this is reversed by the decisions from the characters.

Clearly, Ginger Snaps  represents a horror film that strives to achieve much more than to simply scare its audience. It is the type of horror film that deserves a much larger audience because it has so much to say, from its often satiric voice, to its feminist perspective, to its character study, or simply because it takes an old and trite sub-genre and creates something that has never been done before. Either way, Ginger Snaps  is an underrated gem of a film, and should be watched by horror and non-horror fans alike and be appreciated not for its scariness, but for all of its bite.