A Look at Ginger Snaps: The Canadian Cult Classic
I don't know exactly what to call this. It isn't a review of the film as such. I don't have a lot of experience in film reviewing. I just really wanted to talk about how much I love this film. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way, seeing as the film does have a considerable cult following, particularly in the northern hemisphere.
In fact it was mostly overseas that the film garnered a lot of attention, in the UK and Australia as well as its native Canada. And it was because of this attention, particularly through DVD sales, that a sequel and prequel ended up being made a few years later, both even in the same year. Popularity in the US was low initially, but grew over time.
Here in South Africa I think the film is relatively unknown, and it's only really due to the internet and being able to watch films online that I've been able to discover not only this film, but many others that aren't ever available locally. It's because of this that I was able to see this great little film, and I am strongly considering buying it even though there are concerns over regional restrictions with the Blu-Ray disc and/or DVD. Obviously there must be some demand for it as several local online retailers have made it available to order. Even if I couldn't play it, I'd like to just have it (update: I took the plunge and ordered it!).
I just find it kind of baffling how the film came out in the early 2000's when I was more or less in that age group at the time -- in high school in my early teens; I grew up and entered my twenties without it, and only now, heading into my fourth decade on earth I now find this gem that really captures what it was like growing up as a teenage outcast, which is something I completely identify with. How did I ever live or cope without it?
It completely nailed how it was not only at that age, but also how things were culturally at that time. Most films that came out around that time, so called teenage slasher flicks like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer, or even more light hearted ones like Not Another Teen Movie (which was admittedly a send up of the genre) were so clichéd it made them painful to watch.
Ginger Snaps got the social hierarchy in school exactly right. Maybe in the USA it's different, but in South Africa, at least at the particular school I went to, the jocks were actually not at the top of the ladder, and neither were the cheerleaders. However, I think that was largely to do with sports not really being developed at the school at the time I went there.
The crew in Ginger Snaps that saw the cocky, self-assured Jason McCardy and his friends, Ben and Tim – were essentially just a bunch of pot smoking slackers – on the sidelines of the hockey field, sitting on the bleachers – in my high school, those were the cool kids, or at least in junior high they were. The ones who were “too cool for school”, so to speak.
They were very socially adept, went to all the parties and did a lot of stuff outside of school, but in school, it was different -- they didn't do sports, they didn't take part in extracurricular activities, they didn't put their name down for anything, and the only way they ever really did anything is if the teachers volunteered them – or if an activity at school actually became cool to do.
They were the average high school teenager. Completely mediocre. Not an underachiever, not an overachiever, academically or athletically. To some this may be old news, but to Hollywood, I think there's a very skewed idea of what the social hierarchy actually looked like. I would chalk it up to too many basement dwelling nerds who are now directors and producers.
Locally, I think it may also have had something to do with the language barrier that existed. Afrikaans kids, who were the ones most interested in sports, as hard as they tried, were not ever seen as being as cool as English speaking ones. And if you've ever tried to speak the language, you'd know why.
"Now I find this gem that really captures what it was like growing up as a teenage outcast, which is something I completely identify with. How did I ever live or cope without it?"
The neighbourhood that the girls lived in was based in this area.
One of the schools here, Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy, served as the setting for Bailey Downs High School.
This is where the greenhouse was in the film, and where Sam's office was located.
It was also a sign of the times. Being an athlete requires discipline, and being told what to do. Most kids in the Y generation or “millenials” don't take this well. They want to do their own thing, and if that means blowing off school and hanging out with friends with some dope, then so be it. They are the rebels, often without a cause, and the complete epitome of cool. And for the most part, the jocks with their uniforms, militaryesque chants and drills, and relatively clean lifestyle, can't hang.
I also found the film to be quite feminist. Now this probably doesn't come as a surprise to most, as it was written by Karen Walton (a woman), and as was once said by someone whose name escapes me: "all women are feminists". It took me a while at least to kind of figure it out, once I'd gotten over the initial shock and horror (much like watching a Tarantino film) – it's especially evident in the scripts, and also in some of the deleted scenes.
But getting back to the boys sitting on the sideline while the girls were the active ones playing on the field – this was also in stark contrast to what most teenage films of this nature depicted, which would have been the absolute reverse, and certainly did show a window into the culture that existed at the time and a preview into the times that were to come.
Indeed, Karen Walton wanted the female characters, particularly the leads, to be different from how they were traditionally portrayed in horror films, which was just as murder bait; weak, helpless victims. But a sacrifice was made: the fact that most men in the film were shown to be either wishy-washy, deviant or downright oppressive didn't sit well with me. It hits too close to home, a total reflection of an idea or stereotypical view held by many in the real world, for it to even be funny or part of a convincing plot.
People have claimed that Ginger Snaps is in fact a chick flick. While it does have females as the lead characters, the film is virtually devoid of romance or any tenderness, that happens to slow down most films, and would have been absolutely inappropriate for this film, given its genre. Then again I suppose it's how you define “chick flick” that matters.
If anything, it shows how in modern society that instant gratification reigns. There's just sex, no emotion, no strings.
Applying the label of "comedy horror" would also probably be wrong too. While the film does have humorous moments, it is ultimately a horror mixed with some drama exploring themes like puberty, growing up. But overall it is still very much a horror film. Just when you think it's getting too laid back or over-dramatic, the several scenes of gratuitous violence present throughout the film will keep you in check.
I have the utmost respect for the film and its director, John Fawcett, who decided not to go along with CGI and special effects, and instead just do things the old fashioned way, with plenty of makeup, fake blood, and in the case of the werewolves, big fleshy puppets. In my mind at least, barring any exceptions, it's the last "real" horror film of the 20th century and the first of the 21st century, setting the bar to which most other horror films in the last 15 years have failed miserably to reach.
"It's the last "real" horror film of the 20th century and the first of the 21st century, setting the bar to which most other horror films in the last 15 years have failed miserably to reach."
Ginger Snaps falls into a subgenre of horror films that appeals to me – the body horror. It's when people undergo physical changes of sort. Think The Fly or Hellraiser, two other classic body horror films. It's a film that I find easily intrigues me due to its graphic nature and the hotness of Ginger is admittedly hard to avoid too. It wouldn't have worked nearly as well if someone else had been cast as was originally planned.
For me, sexuality and horror go together very well. There's that eroticism, that sexual sort of love, euphoria that Ginger has whenever she has blood on her hands. It's common in the world for people to fantasise about such things, about otherworldly creatures, and a film like this caters to desires of that nature. Think Twilight or Species. They wouldn't have been as successful as they were, even in cult like like status like the latter if they hadn't been what they were, essentially just softcore porn or romantic literature masquerading as something deep, something more sophisticated. And before you start, it was a Twilight fan fiction that inspired 50 Shades of Grey after all.
Perhaps due to their chemistry in Ginger Snaps, the actors have gone on to star with eachother in later films.
Besides the Ginger Snaps sequel and prequel, Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle starred in Another Cinderella Story together, once again as sisters.
Katharine and Kris Lemche (Sam) starred in Last Casino together, and Kris and Jesse Moss (Jason) starred in Final Destination 3 together.
The thing that appeals to me chiefly about the film is the setting. The school, Bailey Downs High, reminds me of the high school I went to – from the drab colour of the walls, to the shiny floored hallways. But it's also the fact that the surrounds seem to be so empty and quiet.
In the film, right at the intro, a wide angle shot shows the bleak neighbourhood the girls live in, before swooping down to ground level and panning across wide open empty lots filled with swaying, long green grass. That's exactly what it was like near the school I went to – small, winding roads, and just seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by large empty tracts of land that stretched on for miles.
I used to sit outside the drama class room at the back of the school during breaks and just gaze out into the fields beyond the flimsy wire fence, wondering what was beyond that, and what went beyond that, trying to draw a mental picture, connecting the streets and areas inside my head. But as was often the case, what lay beyond that was still nothing, just grass, bushes, trees, no signs of civilisation. How I wanted to get over that fence and just go out there.
Bailey Downs reminds me of my own home town to be honest. It's probably not even as leafy and green as where I live, but Bailey Downs does have plenty of large open fields, and you can walk just about anywhere. There are two schools nearby, and also several doctors offices, lawyers, shops, a vet, two or three churches, and not to mention about three or four different parks. So you don't really have to walk more than a few hundred metres or so before you end up somewhere.
"It's rather remarkable that such a dark film could lift the veil of grey that has been hanging over my eyes for so long."
Ginger Snaps then is a curious little film, because not only is it a look back into the past for me, but also has inspired so many questions for me, has so many hints in it that make my mind tick over, trying to understand just what was meant by something done or said. It's a psychoanalyst's dream come true. A lot of people criticised it for its metaphors that appeared too basic, but they still interest me even after literally dozens of viewings. It's a film that I enjoy analysing, or overanalyzing for hours on end, and I discover new things in it all the time. I love reading about other people opinions on it and learning new things. It appeals to the scholar, the lifelong student in me,
I even find myself using some of the lines in the film as quotes, or saying them out loud while reading the script. I've only heard of so few films or TV series that inspire this much dedication.
Indeed, it's one of those films that I connected with instantly, and there are other films where this has happened, but if I had to list them it would be a rather short list. It has inspired me to write again, fiction and non-fiction, and I owe a lot to the film because of that. It convinced me to grow my hair out again (although I haven't dyed it black or red), and although I know you're thinking: what next, you started wearing black clothes and moping around a lot -- quite the contrary. It's helped me through depression, and has made me do something important -- rediscover youth. Through admiring the characters' carefree, unconventional style and attitude, a spark has been reignited inside of me and I feel young again. I know what it is to have fun once more -- something that I thought I'd forgotten how to experience.
It's rather remarkable that such a dark film could lift the veil of grey that has been hanging over my eyes for so long.
While ancient forums and chat rooms for the film are now all but dead, every now and again there is a resurgence of activity, as yet more people discover this film about coming of age, and it reaches out and touches part of another generation. While undoubtedly underrated, it is most certainly an undying classic.
You know when they say that sometimes you meet someone and it's like you feel you've met before? This film brings on a similar feeling of familiarity, like it spoke to my soul, knew all my secrets, and my desires. This is a film that I was destined to watch, and I only hope that I can one day forgive myself for not doing so sooner.
What do you think of Ginger Snaps?
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