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Ginger Snaps (May 10/01)

It's disheartening to watch a movie like Ginger Snaps and slowly come to the realization that it's just not that good. It's disheartening because it's Canadian, and when was the last time a Canadian film got a release this wide? It's disheartening because it had the potential for so much more, yet winds up wallowing in its own detached ironic humour.

Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins star as Ginger and Brigitte, sisters and best friends. They have a antisocial world-view and spend most their days making fun of their fellow classmates and plotting elaborate ways to off themselves. One day, they decide to take revenge on one particularly cruel student by kidnapping her dog and making it look like it's dead. The plan goes awry, though, when Ginger is attacked by what appears to be a large animal. Bleeding profusely, Brigitte takes Ginger home only to discover that her immense wounds are already healing. Massive changes in behaviour follow, which Ginger assumes is part of her ascension to womanhood (she coincedentally had her first period arount the same time, you see), but Brigitte knows better.

Ginger Snaps (now do you get it?) is a routine, slightly above-average horror flick, but that's not saying a whole lot. When what passes for horror these days is Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, it really doesn't take much effort topping those self-referential "scary" movies. But what Ginger Snaps does have going for it is a terrific sense of mood. Set amongst the cookie-cutter homes of Suburbia, the film captures the dull lifestyle of living in the 'burbs perfectly, right down to the myriad of minivans that skulk about the streets like an Spanish armada.

The film takes a really long time to get going, though, with the first hour containing little other than various sequences detailing Ginger and Brigitte's disgust with everything around them. While the screenwriter has to be applauded for not creating more Neve Campbell/Jennifer Love Hewitt clones, these two girls are essentially of the Heavenly Creatures/Heathers ilk. Frustrated with the Barbie-esque lifestyle they're expected to adopt, the duo confide in each other their fears and desires and mock everyone else. But when everyone around them is as cartoonishly over-the-top as they are, it has to be expected that they'll view people with complete disdain. Prime example of this: Mimi Rogers. Rogers plays their mother, Pamela, a woman that is completely oblivious to the fact that her daughter now craves human flesh, and just chalks it up to "horomonal changes." This character is played for laughs (initially), but as the denoument approaches, the screenwriter jettisons her sardonic approach to the character and Pamela becomes just another frightened cast member (and in addition to that, towards the end she wanders off into a party and is never seen again).

In the end, this is what causes Ginger Snaps to tumble. It spends the entire film walking a fine balance between straight horror and cynically black humour - a balance which never really works - and finally eschews the comedy aspect of the film for pure thrills. But by that time, the audience is filled with apathy for the characters, so it's really difficult to actually care what happens to these people.

But Ginger Snaps, made on a budget of less than $6 million (Canadian! That's, what, $23.50 American?), is a worthy (if not entirely successful) homage to the detached horror films that were once a dime-a-dozen in this country.

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