It’s the start of a new millennium; the whimsigoth aesthetic is at its peak, Fiona Apple just recently came out with “When the Pawn…”, technology is advancing faster than it ever has before, and horror movies have started getting gorier with more complex stories. Life is good. Except for one thing, you got your first period and you’re turning into a werewolf. Ginger Snaps is a film I unfortunately had not heard of before a couple of years ago, however I now wish the angsty, emo 13 year-old Rachel had this film to resonate with and find catharsis in. The best way to describe this film for anyone who has never heard of it is that it’s like The Craft but for wolf-girls. Much like The Craft and Jennifer’s Body in theming, Ginger Snaps focuses on topics surrounding girls coming-of-age, girls having macabre interest in the dark and occult, anger towards men, a literal and metaphorical change from girlhood into womanhood, and a best friend wishing to put an end to the main character’s dangerous supernatural hunger. But while it fits into this niche subgenre of horror perfectly, why does it feel as if no one discusses it?
Ginger Snaps (2000, dir. John Fawcett) opens with a pair of sisters only a year apart in age Ginger and Brigitte (or Bee) Fitzgerald (played by Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) and their sinister outlook on the world around them. The girls regularly express their desire to die, Ginger stating things such as, “Out by sixteen or dead on the scene, but together forever” while reminding Bee of their suicide pact. However, they use photography as their creative outlet for these dark desires by setting up mock murder and suicide scenes. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the Fitzgerald sisters are social outcasts at their school and keep to themselves; Bee skipping a grade to stay by her sister’s side at all times.
On the night of her first period, Ginger gets savagely attacked by a creature in the forest. However, by the time Bee gets her sister home the wounds have already started to heal over. Bee carefully begins to monitor Ginger’s behaviors, seeing a dramatic increase in sexual and aggressive tendencies. While everyone else believes it’s just Ginger’s new hormonal cycle at play, a local drug dealer and botanist named Sam (played by Kris Lemche) believes Bee’s werewolf story and assists her in finding a cure for the curse.
Much of the analysis that can be derived from this film stems from Ginger Fitzgerald and her simultaneous transformation into a werewolf and a woman. There’s much going on with narrative and metaphor here that I was not expecting from this film. Because this was a film I had decided to go in completely blind on again, I was surprised to see such an open and blatant display of periods and hormones. I had gathered that the film was about a girl killing boys, but I was not expecting periods and werewolves to be a part of the equation. I believe because of this Ginger is perhaps one of the more tragic horror characters I’ve come across.
If one considers Ginger’s situation through Ginger’s perspective, rather than Bee’s which is who the film sides with, one will find exactly how unfortunate Ginger’s new life has become. Before Ginger dealt with social isolation and mild bullying, however Ginger’s transformation into a woman and werewolf has caused her to become cut off from the one person she ever trusted – her sister Brigitte. Once the transformation begins, everyone in Ginger’s life, including Bee, begins to see and treat her as a raging hormonal monster to be avoided. While Ginger may have been accustomed to this from peers, she feels betrayed that her sister has begun to act the same and doesn’t seem to understand why Bee has drawn away. Ginger believes the root of this behavior is Bee’s jealousy that Ginger has become a woman, is hot, and that guys want her more. Bee’s betrayal and realization that she no longer wishes to act as her sister’s shadow performs as a final blow to Ginger’s psyche. While it’s plain to see Bee is right to step away from her sister and her increasingly violent self-destructive tendencies, to Ginger she believes she’s finally lost everything worth living for in life. She’s been completely isolated from any meaningful connections and responds with anger.
I believe it’s important to point out, too, that Ginger is just as afraid of herself as the people around her. While both girls already fear a future full of menstruation that’s meant to make them boy crazed sex zombies, Ginger is actively going through this process and probably understands what’s happening to herself the least out of anyone. For example, after losing her V-card Ginger tells Bee, “I get this ache. And I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces.” In other words, this means that she has trouble reading the signals her body is sending to the brain. To not understand one’s own body and mind is a frightening experience for anyone to go through, let alone it being a supernatural change that not everyone experiences, understands, or believes. Ginger seems to be searching for an answer in her own weird way throughout the movie. She copes by attempting to lean into the negative aspects that make others so afraid of her. Almost as if she’s attempting to become the monster everyone sees her as, even if that’s not what she really wants.
One moment that stuck out to me was Ginger in her bathroom attempting to cut off her rat-like tail. By this point, much of Ginger’s body has changed: her hair becomes whiter, she’s developed fangs, her fingernails are thick, sharp, and arched like claws, her body hair grows at a rapid pace, and her tail continues to grow longer by the day. Ginger is in hysterics at this point; she’s obviously in intense pain but also desperate to return to the person she was before the werewolf attack. While at school she keeps up a tough persona and uses her new body as a disguise for confidence, at home she seems to be in intense despair and repeatedly does anything she can to stop the transformation from happening.
However, the tragic Ginger storyline is not the only one viewers can argue towards as many others find Ginger Fitzgerald and her transformation to genuinely be more of a symbol of feminine empowerment. Shortly after getting bit and attacked by a werewolf, Ginger’s confidence in herself and her body skyrockets. She no longer wears baggy clothes and instead dresses and moves as if she’s Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic. Ginger’s attitude too, while it was aggressive but timid before, has changed to be entirely aggressive all the time. For example, early in the film a popular girl named Trina (played by Danielle Hampton) knocks over Bee during gym class and Ginger gives a verbal threat to Trina, but doesn’t attack. Sometime after Ginger’s change, Trina knocks Bee over again and before she can turn around Ginger tackles her to the ground and repeatedly punches her in the nose. Likewise, as Ginger is about to lose her V-card she finds the need to “be the man” in the situation and take anything she wants from the boy she’s sleeping with. I believe another good example as to why many believe Ginger’s story is more about empowerment than tragedy is a quote towards the end of the film. Here, Ginger and Bee are alone in a school hallway right after Ginger has killed a school staff member. Ginger states, “It feels so good, Brigitte. [Killing is] like touching yourself. You know every move right on the fucking dot. And after, you see fucking fireworks. Supernovas. I’m a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything.”
I give Ginger Snaps 5 out of 5 coffins.
A few years ago there was a resurgence of Jennifer’s Body being discussed and analyzed in scholarly feminist circles. While that film was originally marketed at a jerk-off fest for boys, the reality of the film’s narrative was exactly the opposite. I think it’s great that Jennifer’s Body has been able to make a comeback and become recognized for more than just its sexy lead actress – but I think it’s time for the same to happen with Ginger Snaps.
Without the horror community on Tumblr, I more than likely still would have not heard about this film, and I believe that’s a damn shame. The writing is terrific, the narrative is compelling, and I thought the werewolf aspect was perfect for describing a girl going through hormonal pains. There’s nothing about this film that I could find to gripe about and I’m now considering it one of my top favorite films of all time. For casual viewers, this film is enjoyable to watch and may resonate with female audience members; on an academic level it’s a great film that could be taught in feminist courses, and I believe with further research it could make for a good scholarly essay. There is so much more which could be covered about this film which a movie review doesn’t really allow the space for.
Ginger Snaps is available to watch for free via Pluto TV, Tubi, Peacock, and Vudu. It’s also available to stream through Amazon Prime Video and Shudder.