Viking Night: Ginger Snaps
By Bruce Hall
November 2, 2016
Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) Fitzpatrick are teenage sisters whose suburban community is being terrorized by a rash of dog mutilations. That probably doesn’t sound like a solid narrative foundation, but stay with me a moment. These are no ordinary girls; in fact, they’re the only ones in town who don’t seem particularly concerned about the neighborhood pooch population getting thinned out. In fact, the girls are kind of into it, as both of them share a darkly romantic fascination with death.
The girls haunt the periphery of their high school world, drifting around campus like a pair of ghouls, decked out in meticulously maintained Nu-Goth garb. Their hobbies include glowering, throwing shade on the popular kids, and taking artfully staged photos of each other in simulated death poses. Waiting for them at home are their witless parents (John Bourgeois, Mimi Rogers), who are too busy nursing their own issues to notice their children transforming into bleak little monsters.
Meanwhile, the sisters have secretly sworn a suicide pact, and playfully fantasize about murdering their classmates. They’re just a pair of typical teens, jaded by the emptiness of their materialistic lifestyle, and desensitized to pain by the already crushing pessimism of modern adolescence. They lack the nerve to fulfil what they’ve imagined, so they decide to play a prank on one of their classmates by staging a dog mutilation. The gag goes hilariously wrong when the girls are attacked by a horrific dog-like creature.
Ginger is seriously injured, but her wounds quickly heal...kind of. Before long, the once inseparable siblings begin to drift apart, and Ginger becomes ever more unpredictable and violent. In contrast, Brigitte turns out to be more the nurturing type. As things with Ginger continue to spin out of control, Brigitte befriends a drug dealer with a heart of gold (Chris Lemche), who (rather fortuitously) happens to be darkly handsome AND super knowledgeable about mythical creatures and afflictions.
The title - Ginger Snaps - is a double-entendre, referring both to the (supposedly) delicious snack and to Ginger Fitzpatrick's briskly deteriorating condition. Is that funny? I don’t know, but I can tell you that Ginger Snaps is smart enough not to take itself particularly seriously. John Fawcett (perhaps better known for his work on Orphan Black) seems to understand he’s directing a niche film, and handles the material with a sufficiently light touch.
A gleefully dark sense of humor permeates the script, whose best delivered lines include “What do guys want?” and “Get in the van!” If you’re looking for comparison (and I know you are), I’d call it reminiscent of the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer - but don’t take that to mean that Ginger Snaps necessarily involves vampires. It does however, become increasingly gruesome as it goes on. It wisely chooses to counter with muted sight gags, dry one liners and LOTS of Dutch angles.
Essentially speaking, this is not The Exorcist, is what I’m trying to say. Ginger Snaps is just a quirky, consciously irreverent story about two sisters - at odds for the first time in their lives. It also happens to be a surprisingly bleak coming-of-age yarn, wherein the crucible of tragedy forces a pair of closely connected siblings to develop their own disparate senses of identity. And of course, there are also what feels like approximately one million spectacularly brutal murders. So, if you like your family drama soaked in steaming viscera AND winking irony, then congratulations - this is your new favorite movie.
While I can’t say I like Ginger Snaps quite THAT much, I can say that it’s got a good sense of humor, and a legitimately surprising amount of pathos. I can see why it has a following. The humor is both dry AND uneven, which works against it. But, there’s a lot OF it, so it almost evens out, to tell you the truth. Perkins and Isabelle make for a serviceable pair of poster girls for responsible child spacing, and Perkins would seem to have inherent skill with deadpan humor.
Someone should get her an internship with Bill Murray. I’d pay real money to see the results.
But for my money, the best relationship in the film is between Brigitte and her mother. Mimi Rogers gets a fair bit of screen time here, and by the end of the film I nearly convinced myself that I wanted to see her and Brigitte in their own single mom comedy/horror spinoff on Starz. Just please, let Bruce Campbell also somehow be involved. All I ask for is five percent. No, make it eight.
That’s pure gold any way you look at it. Make it happen, Hollywood.