Ginger Snaps: Womanhood by Way of Toothy Transformation
by Caitlin Brehm
10. 30. 23
The most frightening horror movies are those that showcase the complicated trials and tribulations of teenage girlhood: puberty, dating, high school, oh - and werewolves. At least that’s what we see play out for Ginger and Brigitte in Ginger Snaps (2000), directed by John Fawcett and written by Karen Walton. This film could be dismissed as a teenage werewolf B-sploitation-flick, yet within it resides an essential case study in how important female voices are to the horror genre.
In the beginning of the film we are introduced to the Fitzgerald sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, two teenagers who share a close bond, as well as a macabre fascination with all things dead and dying. Meanwhile, a string of mysterious dog killings, vicious and animalistic in nature, has plagued their small town.
One night, Ginger gets her first period, as the girls are on their way to kidnap the dog of their high school bully. The scent of her fresh blood, results in Ginger drawing the attack of a mysterious creature. Just as suddenly, the creature is struck by a local pot-head/chemist, Sam, driving his van.
After the attack, Ginger begins undergoing the classic werewolf transformation. If you are a fantasy nerd like me, you know the signs: wounds healing with inhuman speed, aggressive mood swings, sudden body hair growth, and even the additional growth of a tail . These sudden changes can obviously be seen as a metaphor for a young girl going through the bodily changes and joys of puberty. Being a girl in high school can sometimes feel like you’re an otherworldly creature.
In addition to her lycanthropic symptoms, Ginger experiences changes in her confidence and sexuality. Suddenly, her sex appeal has skyrocketed and she begins dating a classmate, who also, eventually, catches the werewolf affliction, bizarrely receiving his own bloody menstrual flow.
In an abundance of sisterly concern, Brigitte seeks out Sam’s help, as Ginger’s symptoms worsen by the day. Ginger, embracing her new, half-girl half-werewolf identity, allows herself to be estranged from her sister and does not seem to want her help.
The film climaxes as Brigitte and Sam finally concoct a cure and plan to inject it in Ginger. However, by this time, Ginger has completed her transformation and is no longer human. The three teens meet in a showdown at the Fitzgerald home, ending in an emotional scene between the sisters, juxtaposing the gulf between them and their previous harmony, shown as the camera pans over photos of the sisters on display in their bedroom. This movie gave me a lot more than I bargained for. I went into it expecting some B-grade werewolf fun and, instead, was met with a thoughtful portrayal of the young female experience. The sisters’ relationship is everything a realistic sibling relationship should be: close-knit, competitive, envious at times, and above all willing to die for each other.
My favorite quote in the film comes from a scene in which the girls bury a body together. As Brigitte expresses her concerns about being caught, Ginger retorts, “A girl can only be a slut, bitch, tease, or the virgin next door. We’ll just coast on how the world works.” As I said in my Letterboxd review: “This line walked so that America Ferrera’s Barbie monologue could run.” A touch of hyperbole, but I still stand by it. This line in Ginger Snaps resonated because it reminded me just how vexed girls are, the first time they find out how the patriarchal world works. As Ginger sought to exploit the way this system sees them to their advantage, I thought– “hell yeah!” They may be burying a body, but when women have to live with the weight of being less-than from the day we’re born, we might as well flip the script when life is on the line .
Years after its arrival, Ginger Snaps still influences female-centered horror. Jennfier’s Body, which has seen a cult resurgence in recent years, tackles similar ideas and dynamics. The relationship between Jennifer and her sister, Needy parallels that of Ginger and Brigitte. Ginger’s menstrual cycle is centered as an integral part of her transformation, as Jennifer’s growing sexuality acts as an integral part of hers. Both Ginger and Jennifer begin to thrive in their newfound identities, while younger sisters Brigitte and Needy, look on in horror, and in awe, of their sisters’ new, ravenous abilities and personalities. Brigitte and Needy both fear Ginger and Jennifer, yet are determined to help them return to their original human state.
Through female identity, puberty, sexuality, and sisterhood, Ginger Snaps explores the complexity of womanhood by way of werewolf transformation, a unique feminine-driven dive into the horror genre. Ginger Snaps is a must-watch for anyone interested in horror films and the role women play in the genre . . . afterall, both get bloody, even gory, at times!
Caitlin is an FIT graduate with a passion for knitting and horror films. You can follow her @caitlin.brehm