She is jittery. She slouches and shrugs. She tries to avoid eye contact. But when she does, it’s with deep suspicion and fear. She constantly acts as though she’s completely allergic to her own body.
One of the best things about the original Ginger Snaps is Emily Perkins’ effective performance. She plays the awkward, unsmiling Brigitte, a sullen teenager who forms a morbid pact with her older sister, Ginger (Katherine Isabelle). From that very first moment she walks out the family garage, we see a young woman completely uncomfortable in her own skin.
After Ginger gets infected by a werewolf bite, Brigitte goes out of her way to find a cure for her. In the film’s final scene, she has a needle full of monkshood in one hand and a knife in the other. When Ginger lunges at her, fully transformed into a four-legged, mostly hairless hellhound, all Brigitte has to do is puncture her with the needle to save her. She uses the knife.
In Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, Brigitte’s fateful decision to infect herself with her sister’s tainted blood has put her in a complete state of denial. Every day, when she’s not shaving the little hairs that spring up all over her body, she injects herself with monkshood, a poisonous substance for everybody else, but a temporary solution to delay her inevitable transformation. She meticulously keeps track of how long it takes for her self-inflicted cuts to disappear. The healing time is getting shorter and shorter. Whether she likes it or not, she’s becoming a werewolf like her sister.
Her life is even lonelier than it was in the first movie (no parents this time around, Ginger only shows up as a mocking, know-it-all hallucination) and disappointingly, a lot more depressing. Whereas the original Ginger Snaps was darkly humourous and genuinely creepy (but also a lot of fun), Ginger Snaps 2 is dour, pedestrian and witless, a significant comedown.
While Ginger embraced her new reality with unrelenting gusto, her gradual evolution strangely similar to puberty, Brigitte’s dilemma is no different than that of a heroin addict and about as delightful. (Trainspotting, this isn’t.) Without regular injections, she looks like hell and starts experiencing withdrawals. Knowing what’s coming she wants no part of it. Considering how she has absolutely no life whatsoever regardless of this, it’s a curious reaction. What else does she have to do other than rack up fines for overdue library books?
Not helping matters is her involuntary stint in rehab. As she fears the return of a mysterious werewolf that’s been hunting her for a while, among other obstacles, Brigitte finds herself at the mercy of a sleazy orderly who demands sexual favours for her confiscated monkshood. While a couple other young female addicts service him before getting their particular fixes, Brigitte resists and for a time, quietly suffers in solitude. If only she would let nature take its course. Her stubbornness is not as noble as she thinks it is.
Meanwhile, an irritating, comic book-obsessed blond girl named Ghost (future Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany showing surprising charisma at such a young age), who enjoys talking in third-person narration (that gets tired real quick), gravitates towards her for reasons that don’t become completely clear until the end. She’s in the rehab center visiting her terrified, badly burnt grandmother.
When Ghost tells an anxious Brigitte that she can help her escape, there’s only one catch. Ghost gets to leave, too. By the time they make their move, the werewolf’s killing game is already strong.
The rarity of female-centric horror films is one of the primary reasons why I like the original Ginger Snaps. Plus, from its jolting opening scene, it hooked me. Normally, I have a big aversion to gorefests (excessive blood tends to replace strong characters and a suspenseful plot) but because of the film’s cleverness in seeing remarkable similiarities between menstruation and werewolf transformations, all that blood is necessary.
Ginger Snaps notes the frustrating double standards of female sexuality in smart and humourous ways. In a society that constantly puts males above females, sexually aggressive women are seen as scary, overly demanding, selfish even for making their pleasure a central focus of their carnal pursuits. Ginger openly acknowledges how unfair this is and then proceeds to do what she wants anyway because she’s too powerful to be denied. Plus, she now has an outlet to release all that pent-up anger that’s been building after so many years of being an outcast in her own town.
In Ginger Snaps 2, the reluctant Brigitte is far less willing to embrace her destiny which is not nearly as entertaining to watch, nor convincing. She’s a victim who doesn’t need to be. Whereas Ginger was addicted to her newfound voraciousness because it greatly improved her life, her younger sister is addicted to the illusion of recovery that repeated shots of monkshood will never fully deliver. She’s wasting everyone’s time pretending she can beat this. What exactly is she trying to protect? A boring, isolated life?
The film is colder than the original and lacks its biting quips. Brigitte gets brutally mocked for all those slashes on her wrist. One fellow rehab patient thinks she’s bad at suicide attempts. (To be fair, she has contemplated it at least once.) Ghost gets pelted with pennies in the TV room. Other rehabbers say and threaten cruel things to each other. And, of course, there’s that manipulative orderly who demands sex for drugs. As if it wasn’t already abundantly clear, there’s just no fun to be found in any of these sequences.
By the time we reach the somewhat surprising finale, when the truth about Ghost and her grandmother are revealed, the impact is drearily minimal. We just don’t care.
Unlike the original, Ginger Snaps 2 also lacks a dynamic opening which proves fatal. Watching an overly confident library worker attempt to pick up Brigitte is more eye-rolling and pathetic than amusing. (He’s full of shit when he says he’s “just kidding”. You only say that when you strike out.) Not only that, her clichéd dismissal of his pitiful advances is much weaker than the very funny way Ginger turns down a future lover in the original. (All she needs is a dramatic pause and one word to get the point across.) Like Brigitte’s dilemma, there’s no recovery from this. The needless sadness of her life sullies the entire atmosphere of the movie.
There was a third film in this series, a prequel called Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, but it went straight to video because of the lack of audience enthusiasm for Unleashed. It’s a shame, really. Ginger Snaps showed even with all its low-budget limitations the unique appeal of a feminist horror film. We need more of them. God knows it’s an untapped area of creativity.
But let’s hope for better offerings than this downer of a sequel.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 28, 2016