Teenagers have never been represented particularly well in horror films. Many of these characters are one-dimensional stereotypes (the jock, pothead, etc.), outlived by one or two comparatively moral peers. The typical “final” girl is usually so telegraphed, it’s easy to identify her within a minute or two of her first appearance, leaving the last act of the movie a foregone conclusion. And this is where Ginger Snaps offers a welcome change of pace. Kind of.
Neither of the film’s leads start off as likable. The two sisters, Brigitte and Ginger, are goth girls in the most obnoxious, stereotypical sense of the word. Like South Park, their earnestness is very much part of the joke, but some viewers (and I was among them) might hesitate about spending a full run time with these characters during the first fifteen to twenty minutes.
Fortunately, it’s right near the end of that mark where things get interesting.
During a rash of neighborhood animal killings, the girls decide to take revenge on a local bully by kidnapping her dog. Before they can pull it off, Ginger is attacked by a wolf-like creature. The two escape and the werewolf is killed by a passing van, but it isn’t long before Ginger begins to manifest some peculiar symptoms.
While this synopsis might sound a little bland, it’s the execution of the aftermath that makes the film. The characters quickly lose a chunk of their goth pretension, and both actresses prove to be surprisingly good. Brigitte (Emily Perkins) becomes more anxious with each bizarre behavior her sister exhibits, while still remaining unwaveringly loyal. Meanwhile, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) begins a devolution into a more primal state that also serves as a blackly humorous allegory for puberty. Everything from periods, premarital sex, to sexually transmitted diseases is given a wink and a nod. And to the film’s credit, most of it manages to be pretty damn funny even as it builds to a bleak final act.
In the end, Ginger Snaps is smart enough to know when to let its first joke (mostly) pass and truly make something of its premise. The movie remains just funny enough even when things are really going to hell–an admirable and difficult balance to strike. And as an added bonus, the special effects aren’t half bad, either. While the opening may be a little much to take, make the effort to get through it. I promise, it really does get better.