If you like hor­ror films that use the sym­bols of the gen­re to explore psy­cho­log­i­cal and social ideas then high school is per­haps the ide­al set­ting for that kind of hor­ror movie.  The psy­cho­log­i­cal and social bru­tal­i­ty flies fast and furi­ous in the halls of your aver­age high school, thus pro­vid­ing fer­tile ter­ri­to­ry for the inven­tive hor­ror film­mak­er.  Ginger Snaps is a note­wor­thy exam­ple of this teenage social Darwinism fla­vor of hor­ror, using the were­wolf arche­type to tack­le an ambi­tious array of high school-ori­ent­ed themes.

GinSnaps-posThe hero­ines of Ginger Snaps are mis­fit sis­ters Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins).  Both are out­casts who have devel­oped mor­bid inter­ests in the dark and creepy as a respon­se to their dull yet cru­el sub­ur­ban upbring­ing: they even have a sui­cide pact to off them­selves by the time Ginger reach­es the age of six­teen. That time is upon them and Brigitte seems ambiva­lent about it — but the plan is thrown aside when Ginger is attacked and bit­ten by a four-legged beast that has been bedev­il­ing their sub­urb.

Said beast is hit by a car but that doesn’t save Ginger, who  starts show­ing some unchar­ac­ter­is­tic behav­iors: an inter­est in sex, a new “alpha” atti­tude and a desire to tear apart liv­ing things.  Brigitte finds an unlike­ly ally in local deal­er Sam (Kris Lemche), whose savvy with hor­ti­cul­ture may help to find a cure, but Ginger’s huGinSnaps-03nger moves at a speed — and racks up a body count — that forces Brigitte to make some hard choic­es.

Ginger Snaps is the kind of hor­ror film that bowls you over in the first few min­utes with its sense of self.  It’s draw­ing on some clear influ­ences — An American Werewolf In London, Heathers, etc. — but mix­es the­se ele­ments into some­thing that has its own dis­tinc­tive sense of flair.  Karen Walton’s script is often wicked­ly fun­ny and John Fawcett’s direc­tion slick­ly com­bi­nes hor­ror atmos­phere with the visu­al style of a John Hughes high school opus.

The one notable prob­lem with Ginger Snaps is that Fawcett and Walton aren’t always in total con­trol of their array of ideas and influ­ences.  Walton’s script is clev­er in how it uses the were­wolf myth to touch on a vari­ety of themes — the scary nature of female puber­ty, how changes in social desires often force close friends apart dur­ing the high school years, how the ten­sion of sib­ling rival­ry boils over between teenagers — but it tries on the­se ideas and dis­cards GinSnaps-02them as quick­ly as a high school kid tests out a new per­sona.

This ten­den­cy is real­ly notable in the third act, which goes for a more overt horror/less com­e­dy feel than the rest of the film: to its cred­it, it pulls off some gen­uine­ly effec­tive set­pieces despite mid­dling make­up effects.  It’s just a shame that Walton and Fawcett couldn’t fig­ure out a more effec­tive wGinSnaps-01ay to fuse the satir­i­cal and the grue­some in a con­sis­tent way.

However, the­se prob­lems don’t negate the appeal of Ginger Snaps.  Horror fans will be thrilled with its bar­rage of ideas, which is strong enough to car­ry it through even when its inter­nal con­sis­ten­cy flags.  Better yet, the film is anchored by a fan­tas­tic pair of lead per­for­mances: Isabelle gives an appro­pri­ate­ly showy and charis­mat­ic per­for­mance as the film’s main were-teen while Perkins does sub­tler but no less impres­sive work as the sib­ling in Ginger’s shad­ow.  Perkins real­ly has to car­ry the film dur­ing its sec­ond half and she gives it an emo­tion­al depth that lends the mate­ri­al a much-need­ed ground­ing.

In short, Ginger Snaps is one of the most inter­est­ing addi­tions to the were­wolf gen­re since the genre’s last big hey­day in the ear­ly ‘80s and an inter­est­ing exam­ple of how to fuse themes and arche­types in hor­ror.  Though it is not always as con­sis­tent as you might hope it would be, its unique­ly high lev­el of ambi­tion makes it worth the invest­ment of time for hor­ror fans in the mar­ket for some­thing a lit­tle smarter than the norm.