She was a Teenage Werewolf (and why I’ll Never Stop Watching Teen Movies)
DIRECTED BY JOHN FAWCETT/2000
I am not a teenager. I am so much not a teenager that you could triple the age of an 18 year old and still not quite get to how old I am. And yet, despite my graying hair and status as grandmother, I have a lifelong love of teen movies. Sure, I still have a somewhat nostalgic love for the movies of my adolescence (Better Off Dead, The Outsiders, Sixteen Candles) but I also get excited about the release of a promising teen film now, when I’m old enough to have finally stopped having nightmares about forgetting my locker combination. Analyzing the reasons why adults love teen movies sounds boring when we could all just go watch 10 Things I Hate About You instead, but here are a couple of observations.
On the most obvious level, teen movies are nostalgic time capsules; at least the ones that are set when they were made. I’m not sure any genre gives a better recap of fashion, music, or language than teen movies – albeit a heightened version. It’s comfort food to revisit the music of Dazed and Confused or the oh-so-2000s styles of Save the Last Dance, and who doesn’t enjoy comfort food now and then?
But I think my love of teen movies is more than just nostalgia for the aesthetics. Teen movies capture a moment when the stakes are high on everything. There is an intensity to first loves and best friendships, to petty humiliations and small victories, and every decision feels like it could have lifelong consequences. I love that about teens. I appreciate when filmmakers remember and communicate what it feels like to be at that place in life.
Of course, not all teen movies are seeking that kind of emotional authenticity. Some of them just want to rack up the body count at Camp Crystal Lake or let the nerd lose his virginity to the hot senior. I don’t enjoy those as much, but some of them will be included in what I’m about to do here at Zeke Film – which is to watch or rewatch teen films from across the decades and write my reactions to them. Youth may be wasted on the young, said the cranky front porch guy in It’s a Wonderful Life (a significant portion of which is a teen romance/coming of age film), but youth movies will never be wasted on me. Count on it: I’ll be the old lady at the nursing home trying to gather a group for yet another screening of Say Anything.
And so I started this project not with a whimper but a bang. I watched, for the first time, the 2000 Canadian teen horror film Ginger Snaps. I’d never heard of this movie until I was skimming a list of teen films, and now I can’t imagine how I missed it. Ginger Snaps is a werewolf movie but just below the surface (I mean really, just below the surface) it’s about raging hormones, feminism, and the fear of growing up.
Ginger and Brigette Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) are death-obsessed, outcast sisters, 16 and 15 years old, respectively. They wear their long frizzy hair and dark oversized clothes to hide from the world, and have a suicide pact that they’ll die together – “out by 16”. In the meantime, they stage horribly violent tableaux of their deaths – impaled on a picket fence, disemboweled by a lawnmower, crushed under a garage door. If the resulting grim photos have a theme, it’s “death by suburbia”. As it turns out, the photos are for a school assignment: “Life in Bally Downs”. Their teacher is horrified by the images. The boys in class just want to see more picture of Ginger, dead.
There is real carnage in Bally Downs, though, most of it inflicted on the neighborhood dogs. Ginger Snaps is not for faint of heart dog lovers. So many pets have died that the townspeople seem unmoved by it. Children laugh at grieving dog owners. High school girls quip about the mutilated dog carcass on their lacrosse field.
On the first night of her first menstruation (both sisters are delayed in this regard) Ginger is attacked by a wild beast. Her injuries heal quickly – too quickly – but she starts to grow body hair, fangs, and a tail. She also grows an appetite for sex and destruction. Quiet, sullen Brigette watches her sister’s transformation in horror and tries one strategy after another to save her from going full lycanthrope. Ginger, meanwhile, has a love/hate relationship with the changes she’s undergoing and feels increasingly disconnected from Brigette.
Ginger Snaps is a truly good movie with sometimes funny, sometimes grim insights into what it’s like to be transformed by puberty. Isabelle gives an especially strong performance as Ginger, who seethes with some very recognizable teen girl rage and resentment. Mimi Rogers ably plays the girls’ pathologically cheerful mother who may be oblivious or may be unhinged – it’s hard to say.
Ginger Snaps was directed by John Fawcett and co-written with Karen Walton. Fawcett went on to create the series Orphan Black. Visually, Ginger Snaps is dark and dull. The only brightness to be found is in blood – lots of it – but the otherwise grim palette conveys the dreary suburban existance that Ginger and Brigette are trying to escape. For the Fitzgeralds, looming adulthood offers nothing but loveless marriage and false positivity they see in their mother. “God!” complains Ginger when she realizes she started her period, “I mean, you kill yourself to be different and then your body screws you over.” This is some next level insight into the complicated feelings teens can have about their maturing bodies.
Fair warning: Ginger Snaps is extremely violent and gory and features some icky body horror. If you can take blood, guts, dead dogs, vivid descriptions of menstruation, and a very lifelike human tail, I recommend it.
Most Typical Teen Movie Moment: Newly confident and sexually awakened Ginger’s slow-mo stride down the school hallway as the guys who used to mock suddenly notice that she’s hot.
Ginger Snaps is available streaming on YouTube and Tubi.