The Trials of Adolescence: Ginger Snaps23 April 2021
content warning: mentions of suicide, gore and body horror. Spoilers for Ginger Snaps (2000).
“Out by 16 or dead in this scene, but together forever.”
This is how we’re introduced to Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald in the film Ginger Snaps (2000). They’re on the precipice of adolescence, reminiscing on their childhood suicide pact. Both are outcasts fascinated with death as an artistic endeavour, with the opening credits showcasing photographs of gruesome “suicide attempts” that they submitted for a high-school “death project”. But above all, they’re sisters whose teenage idiocy and co-dependence is endearing rather than off-putting in the face of their overbearing mother and shared apathy towards social conceptions of sex, gender and performance.
A terror has taken over the sleepy Canadian suburb of Bailey Downs: dead pets, mangled and torn, have been scattered across backyards. The girls don’t investigate the source—this isn’t a mystery, after all. Instead, they stumble across a fresh canine corpse in the middle of the night by accident. Brigitte comments that there’s something dripping on Ginger, who looks down between her legs to find fresh, oozing blood. She’s begun menstruating—“the curse,” as they call it. There’s a powerful juxtaposition between the horrifying carcass and the wound-like gore on Ginger. They’re about to go home when Ginger’s attacked by a werewolf—her blood having alerted the monster. She’s mauled in the woods until Brigitte stuns the monster with a camera flash. They escape, hugging and crying, in a rare display of vulnerability that foreshadows the loss of something precious that night. As Ginger enters womanhood, everything changes.
The next few days showcase disturbingly familiar trials of adolescence. Ginger goes through physical changes: body hair, claws, mood swings, and extreme stomach pain. In one intimate, all-too-familiar scene, Ginger hides in a bathroom stall and freaks out about her “curse”. She shaves her legs in the bathroom and it’s a gruesome, bloody experience. These symptoms of menstruation deliberately parallel lycanthropy, making these supposedly “normal” symptoms suddenly abnormal, horrifying and dramatic.
Ginger Snaps is a film that revitalised and brought to wider social cognisance the female lycanthropy genre, treating it with sincerity. It’s actually kind of funny how Brigitte, suspecting Ginger of something more insidious than puberty, studies werewolf lore from old films and literature. However, the media hardly helps her. Lycanthropes in mythos are historically masculine; from their savage, brutal statures to their sharp teeth and beastly hair, they’ve always symbolised male puberty. Ginger’s infection spins the lycanthropy genre on its head, making the experience suddenly alienating to male viewers. We almost never see women coded this way—the “she-wolf” is few and far between, and if a woman is tied to canine imagery, it’s usually when she’s being called a “bitch”.
In contrast to the catwoman, the sexy monster, Ginger Snap’s choice likens the ascendency to womanhood with something less alluring and instead more brutal and violent. Brigitte uses the menstrual cycle to track her sister’s transformation, irrevocably tying girlhood to monstrosity. The women here aren’t purely sexual, nor are they separated into “virgins”, “sluts” and “hags”, as is common in the horror genre. Instead, the film tells an uncomfortable, brutal and savage werewolf tale that sees women in all their complex, terrifying glory.
The two sisters eventually start to drift apart. Ginger, overtaken by both puberty and infection, chases boys and lusts after them. She becomes more confident in her sexuality, indulging in her monsterhood, while Brigitte watches in horror. This culminates in a scene where Ginger, excited at the prospect of sex, begins to dominate her boyfriend. He tells her to relax because, “c’mon, who’s the guy here?” She then flips him over, furiously replying: “Who’s the guy here? Who’s the FUCKING guy here? You’re fucking hilarious.” Afterwards, Ginger goes home, covered in blood. The audience begins to doubt her—did something happen to Ginger or did she do something to someone else? Even Brigitte fears her in a way she’d never done before until it’s revealed that the blood is actually from a neighbour’s dog. “I get this ache and I thought it was for sex,” says Ginger, “but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces.”
On the final day of the month, Brigitte locks Ginger away to create an antidote. But Ginger escapes and, fuelled by (blood)lust, runs to their highschool where she murders the guidance counsellor and janitor. Puberty, lycanthropy and murder are all treated as merely more adolescent trials for Brigette to overcome. Brigitte stares, horrified, as Ginger licks the blood off her fingers and says: “It feels so good Brigitte. It’s like touching yourself—you know every move, right on the fucking dot. And after, you see fucking fireworks. Supernovas. I’m a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything.”
This representation of female autonomy as something unbridled, uncontainable and monstrous is another core narrative of the film. Ginger’s transformation into a werewolf here occurs when she’s in full control, a far cry from when was first bitten and still in fear of puberty.
Brigitte, desperate, eventually begs Ginger to “stop hurting everyone else and take me!” But Ginger replies, “want you? I don’t even know you!”
The line stings, the cinematography and acting superbly showing the malice and regret in each of their words. Girlhood is truly destructive, not only to the victim but to everyone around them. Brigitte, unable to convince Ginger with just her words, instead cuts herself, mixing their blood. “Now I am you.” Infected together—together forever. She brings Ginger back to the house with her. Shaky camera movements mirror Brigitte’s wariness; her fear for her sister slowly morphing into fear of her. Despite tying their fates together, despite knowing this is Ginger of all people, Brigitte is horrified by the thing this “curse” has made Ginger become.
Ginger, now fully transformed, attacks her. Brigitte falters with the antidote, the infection having weakened her. After an intense chase, Ginger jumps on Brigitte, landing directly on the knife in her hands. There’s a moment where she’s breathing, slowly passing away. But whatever the sisters shared is long destroyed. Brigitte can’t cure her now—won’t. Instead, she crawls closer and lays her head on her chest, mourning. The film ends here, the girls united in their curse at unfathomable cost. “Out by 16 or dead in this scene, but together forever.”
There’s something oddly comforting about the aesthetic choices of this film. I can’t help but imagine men in theatres in the 2000s being absolutely horrified, watching Ginger grow fur and menstruate in bright red pools. It is horrifying—to men. Female puberty and menstruation are such taboo subjects, treated with the same regard as ghost tales and horror stories. We see this in the way the girls’ father refuses to talk about their experiences, the way men in general refuse to engage in what is such a huge part of these girls’ lives. It’s a damaging dismissal the film explores: this all-consuming and terrifying aspect of adolescence that girls are left to overcome on their own. It’s meta-commentary, a horror movie to horrify male viewers.
For others familiar with the body horror and hormonal punches of adolescence, the movie unravels perfectly. The simultaneous love and hate between family members is expertly drawn out and each character, even those reduced to archetypes, feel real. I really like Ginger Snaps for its elegant commentary. There’s no impending apocalypse, no world to be saved or a mystery to be solved; it’s simply two sisters overcome and destroyed by an adolescence they neither wanted, nor were prepared for. It’s a cautionary tale about ignorance which, when left to fester, spreads, infects and snaps.