Ginger Snaps has been a critical favorite ever since its release, due to its unique feminist slant on the werewolf genre. It was approached with the idea of treating lycanthropy as a biological disorder, a curable medical condition, rather than a mythological occurrence. Slashers use death as a metaphor for the fear of the changes that come with sexual maturity, but Ginger Snaps plays both sides of the fence. Ginger embraces her changes with ravenous gusto, while Brigitte reacts with fear and some amount of jealousy. The film builds tension between Ginger's newfound recklessness and Brigitte's stabilizing influence. The two may be among the best-defined characters in all horror.
Ginger Snaps was written by John Fawcett and fellow Canadian Film Centre alumnus Karen Walton. Walton had no experience writing horror, but is skilled at depicting authentic teens. She is responsible for the film's sharp, realistic dialogue and its feminist viewpoint. Fawcett handled the film's horror element. The idea was born during brainstorming, when the two made the connection between the werewolf moon cycle and the menstrual cycle.
Ginger Snaps touches on aspects of female puberty that are rarely addressed in film, and are generally considered by society to be off-limits subjects. These changes are difficult enough on their own, but are made worse by the fact that nobody wants to discuss them, so that girls are left to struggle through them on their own. This is reflected here as the clueless, vending-machine type of advice that is dispensed by adults who can't wait to change the subject. The father has no stomach for the topic, and he's a non-factor who simply vanishes by film's end.
Negative pre-production publicity in the wake of the Columbine massacre caused Toronto casting directors to boycott the film, so the casting search was moved to Vancouver. This was probably a huge stroke of luck, because it led to the casting of Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins. The onscreen chemistry between the two was aided by the fact that they were real-life friends since childhood, and went to the same school and had the same agent. Laura Harris had been considered to play Brigitte, but at age 23 was thought too old to play a 15-year old. Perkins' agent purposely withheld her age, because she was actually Harris' age and five years older than Isabelle, who was cast as the older of the two sisters.
The movie has a muted feel and a mournful, cello-heavy soundtrack. Ginger Snaps received a theatrical release in Canada, but its distribution company went out of business and was purchased by Blockbuster, and the movie never got a US theatrical release. It has nevertheless gained a following, and is frequently televised.
SYNOPSIS. THIS IS WHERE SPOILERS HAPPEN
The film opens with the terror of a family who find their dog half-devoured. An unknown animal has been killing neighborhood dogs. Ginger is first seen trying out a butcher knife on her wrist as a television voice asks, "Can this happen to a normal woman?" The sisters discuss a suicide pact, and a photographic montage of death scenes of the sisters is shown over the opening credits. This montage makes poetry out of death in a way more frequently seen in European productions, and establishes the sisters as morbid outcasts.
After a cruel incident in gym class, the sisters hatch a plan to kidnap a bully's dog, and use blood and guts left over from their photo shoots to make it look as though the "Beast of Bailey Downs" ate him. They find a freshly killed dog corpse, but Ginger gets her first period at the same time, and it attracts the beast. They escape, and narrowly miss being run over by botanist/drug dealer Sam, whose van kills the pursuing animal. Ginger's bite wounds are already healing by the time she gets home. The girls are shown in biology class the next day, watching a film that illustrates meiosis. This film strongly resembles a scene from The Thing, the one in which Blair observes how the thing attacks and invades the cells of its host organism.
Ginger's personality immediately begins to change. She becomes aggressive, both personally and sexually. She adopts a clothing style that displays her figure instead of hiding it, and engages in riskier activities. Dogs take a strong dislike to her. Ginger doesn't believe Brigitte's suspicion that something especially unusual is happening, until she develops a violent streak. Her behavior becomes increasingly predatory and her appearance grows wolflike. She becomes violently protective of Brigitte, and is suspicious of Sam's efforts to help.
Sam genuinely likes the Fitzgerald sisters, particularly Brigitte, unlike boys like Jason, who are looking for bragging rights. This upsets the bully Trina, who throws herself at Sam but can't get his attention, and she shows up hysterical at the sisters' house. Ginger toys with her like a predator would its prey, and Trina dies in a freak accident. The girls hide her body, but their father's suspicions are aroused. Their mother dismisses these at first, but later realizes that something is wrong, and she unexpectedly but belatedly allies with the sisters.
Sam comes up with the idea of creating an extract from monkshood, a relative of wolfbane. The extract works, but Ginger has fully transformed before they can dose her with it. In the end, Brigitte is left with the task of injecting Ginger, though ill from her own developing infection. The ending is poignant, as Brigitte is forced to kill the sister she's known all her life, and must do so in the room they grew up in.
The werewolf trope in general is an expression of a violent and aggressive type of sexuality. Victims are attacked, not seduced like those of vampires, and their flesh is consumed. This violent attack is more akin to rape, which is why female werewolves are rare. The Howling's Marsha Quist is an example, and she's a big departure from gender stereotype. Note that when Dee Wallace's Howling character transforms, she turns into a "cute" werewolf that resembles Benji. In Blood and Chocolate, the kind-natured Vivian rejects her violent heritage.
Ginger Snaps subverts the whole thing by using Ginger's transformation as a metaphor for sexual awakening. The werewolf attack as a metaphor for sexual violence is part of it: Ginger refuses medical help because she wants to spare her father from finding out about the incident, which is possibly the only time she even mentions him in the film. If it were strictly a physical attack with no metaphorical overtones, would she mind that he knew about it? Then after Trina's fatal mishap, Brigitte asks, "If I weren't here, would you eat her?" Ginger laughs, then responds, "No! That'd be like fucking her!"
Inspired by a hot zombie in Return of the Living Dead Part III, Fawcett explores a secondary aspect of the transformation: a dynamic between sexuality and repulsion. Ginger's a gorgeous young woman and has an intense libidinous drive, but she's growing fangs and a tail. The viewer has to ask: what is the limit?
There are some references to other films. When Brigitte finds Ginger's tail, she jumps into bed frightened, and breathes heavily while shining a flashlight on her face like Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project. When Ginger is in the car on top of Jason, her spine sticks out like that of Natasha Henstridge in Species, another example of female transformation. A few scenes are shot from lawn level, like the beginning of Blue Velvet, another film set in nightmarish suburbia.