Ginger Snaps is almost there. Karen Walton’s script is almost there, Fawcett’s direction is almost there, Emily Perkins’s lead performance is almost there, Katharine Isabelle’s is… okay, it’s not almost there by the end, when Isabelle’s acting through latex makeup, but she’s good in the first act. Ginger Snaps coasts on the first act for quite a while.
It’s just a little long. The third act drags as Perkins and Isabelle go from points A to B to C as the movie tries to finally get to the ending. Ginger Snaps is a werewolf movie, with some of the tropes but not all of them. It rejects a few of them, embraces a few others. Isabelle is the werewolf-to-be, Perkins is the sister who tries to fix all the problems resulting from Isabelle’s lycanthropy, escalating from dead neighborhood dogs and scary nails to dead classmates and a tail growing out of Isabelle’s spine. Perkins and Isabelle never find a Maria Ouspenskaya; they’re on their own figuring out Ginger Snaps’s werewolf rules, with Perkins getting some neighborhood drug dealer Kris Lemche. See, after the werewolf bites Isabelle—on the night of her first period, which seems like it ought to be way more symbolic than it plays in the movie (like, seriously, read Swamp Thing #40)—it chases her and Perkins and Lemche hits it with his truck. Perkins and Isabelle don’t stick around to see Lemche discover he’d hit a some kind of Canis lupus… just one with a circumcised human penis, which does not get enough of a close-up when he finds it. I can’t actually remember if it’s even distinct in the shot.
But the period stuff isn’t the only place Walton’s script drops the proverbial subplot ball, the film also ditches—for all intents and purposes—the sisters’ suicide pact. Even though it’s never quite clear exactly how serious they are about it. The opening credits are all these images of Perkins and Isabelle dead from suicide in creative uses of suburban symbolism. Turns out it’s for a class assignment about living in their crappy suburb, which the first act also suggests is going to be more of a thing. Metaphors for suburban malaise. By the end of the movie, whenever there’s even a nod to the earlier material—like the suicide pact—it doesn’t play because Isabelle is literally inhuman (and eating people) and Perkins is past believing she can save her sister. There are a bunch of opportunities for the movie to have some pay-off with the subplots, never takes them. Not a one.
Especially not anti-helicopter parents Mimi Rogers and John Bourgeois. Rogers gets a whole arc about discovering her daughters’ are hiding a bigger secret than just Isabelle getting her first period and it goes absolutely nowhere. The clues Rogers keeps dropping suggesting she too might be a werewolf—the sisters get their periods late, apparently at sixteen—so Isabelle, while Perkins is a year younger, skipping a grade because smart–and if it’s a metaphor, well, there’d be some maternal connection. Right?
The movie’s a tad tedious, especially in the third act, but Perkins is a solid lead. Lemche would be a lot better with just a little bit better direction. Isabelle just needs a better arc. The movie gives her enough time to not just be “the beast” but then gives her nothing else to do but be the beast. Not counting her horny teen werewolf-to-be thing, which elevates Jesse Moss from background bro to supporting player. He’s not very good. Danielle Hampton’s an excellent mean girl.
It’d help if Mike Shields’s music were better or Thom Best’s photography. Brett Sullivan’s editing is all right. And the final werewolf isn’t groundbreaking or startling but it could be a lot worse.
Even when it’s not at its best, Ginger Snaps could be a whole lot worse.