John Fawcett’s sophomore film, 2000’s Ginger Snaps, explores the misadventures of Ginger Fitzgerald after she’s bitten by a vicious werewolf. The infected Ginger subsequently unleashes her teenage rage upon her suburban neighbourhood as her doting sister, Brigitte Fitzgerald, desperately searches for a cure.
Previously, werewolf horror films generally focused on a male victim. Ginger’s entry into this milieu allowed for critiques of social norms surrounding femininity and female sexuality. She is erratic, hostile and aggressive and her evolution explores ‘the curse’ of adolescence – that liminal space where we hover between childhood and adulthood. Ginger must bid farewell to her familiar childhood body, deal with the onset of menstruation, and reflect on how her adolescent female body simultaneously excites and frightens society as it transgresses previously clear boundaries.
Girlhood is a relatively blissful, unaware state of being. We don’t care about visible panty lines, hairy legs, or groomed brows. We also don’t know much about the bloodstained journey to womanhood ahead of us – a metamorphosis in which we find ourselves occupying the same homes, only with new, secret rooms.
Adolescence creeps up on us in the night, blessing us with stretch marks. Acne. Downy hair, cramping ovaries. We become something liminal and transient in a society that prizes bodies that are fit, agile and attractive. Ginger and Brigitte loathe high school cheerleader, Trina Sinclair, who conforms to all these glorified traits. To the Fitzgeralds, being popular for their appearance means their intelligence is rendered invisible – the ultimate insult.
Asserting the multiple selves inside us can be confronting in a culture that insists categorising is safe and normal; that girls can be understood as either smart or stupid. Prudes or sluts. Femme or butch. One or the other. Ginger feels these pigeonholes are rampant in the small town of Bailey Downs: she rages to Brigitte that ‘a girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door’. But really, we are so many things, and being pretty and feminine is absolutely compatible with intelligence and moral forthrightness. We can be smart, assertive, feminine and sexually aware if we want to – and despite their trepidation, Brigitte and Ginger explore their own nuances.
In body horror narratives, a normal body transforms into something we are repulsed by. Things that were once part of the body – like fluids such as menstrual blood or mother’s milk – can become the site of horror because previous boundaries of the body are erased. Physical places can also change into something horrifying that invokes our fear and repulsion. When Ginger and Brigitte go out one night to play a prank on Trina Sinclair, they pass through an empty playground. It is in this liminal space – a playground at night, when no children will be there – that they are susceptible to liminal events occurring.
While in the playground they find one of the werewolf’s recent kills, and Ginger notices blood on her leg. To her disgust, she realises it’s her period. The loitering werewolf, attracted by her blood, grabs her and tears off into darkness with her body – much like puberty does with our own bodies. Ginger’s infected body immediately becomes the locus of aggressive and frightening change: she leaks blood, kills and eats flesh, has sex, and grows fur and a tail. And when she tries to cut off the tail in a bid to return to her previous state of pre-adolescence, it keeps growing back. The changes cannot be reversed and she can only stumble forward, infuriated.
When her first period starts, Ginger cries out to Brigitte that ‘It hurts!’. Gasping, she pleads: ‘What happened?’, and ‘What did I do?’. Whether it’s about the werewolf attack or her menstruation is unclear – but it’s heartbreaking that she thinks she somehow deserved such pain. It’s blood without violence, but it is blood that most strongly generates social revulsion. Ginger expresses disgust at her own body, worried that she’ll ‘start simpering near the tampon dispenser and moaning about cramps’. It’s almost a relief to see Ginger embrace her manic, blood-soaked body by the end of the film. The sanitary product industry created plastic applicators for us to avoid making contact with our own blood, but it’s Ginger’s unquenchable thirst for the blood of others that ultimately destroys her bond with Brigitte.
For years, the Fitzgerald sisters endured their idea of suburban hell with the support of each other. Their mother chastises Brigitte at one point for her fealty to Ginger, stating that ‘You just do whatever she wants you to. You always have. I really wish you’d start thinking for yourself.’ And so Brigitte does – she researches lycanthropy, forges an alliance with the local drug dealer to devise a cure for Ginger’s infection, and soldiers on as mayhem unfolds around her. But when she offers Ginger the remedy, Ginger has already overcome her fear of transformation and embraced her monstrosity.
At the pinnacle of her metamorphosis, Ginger whispers to her sister that ‘we’re almost not even related anymore’. She doesn’t want to be the sister she once was, and she also has no interest in becoming a woman. Instead she hungers to push her metamorphosis and fury to an extreme from which there is no return. Brigitte, the braver of the pair, makes the difficult choice to stop Ginger’s trail of destruction. Alone, Brigitte grieves for the loss of their sisterhood. Alone, she is left to traverse the dark night that falls after childhood ends, but womanhood is still out of reach.