John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps is exactly the film it intends to be, one that makes all the right choices in its fearless examination of female puberty, the powerful and often destructive relationship between sisters, society's deeply rooted mistrust of women's sexuality - and most especially the sexuality of teenage girls. It's dark, wry, feminist, thoughtful, scary, gross, hilarious, damn near perfect. The film is so good that, as is often the case, it spawned two sequels, making up a trilogy remarkably unlike any other.
Those two sequels, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back - The Beginning, were filmed back-to-back based on the strength of Ginger Snaps' cult home video audience. While Fawcett remained involved in an executive producer capacity, the trilogy - shot between the years of 1998 and 2003 - has three different directors and five different writers. The films span centuries and share no consistent characters other than our leads - and really, not even those. In Unleashed, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is dead, the character only existing within the troubled mind of Brigitte (Emily Perkins). In Ginger Snaps Back, Ginger and Brigitte aren't the Ginger and Brigitte we know, with Isabelle and Perkins playing 19th century forbears of the characters we met in Bailey Downs at the turn of the 21st century.
But thematically, the Ginger Snaps trilogy adheres to one unassailable idea: that our commitment to the people we love is, at once, the source of our greatest strength and our ultimate undoing.
In Unleashed, that commitment is very much Brigitte's undoing. The superior sequel opens with Brigitte's being quite literally haunted by the specter of her sister. Ginger was Brigitte's true love, her everything, and in the final moments of Ginger Snaps, Brigitte was forced to kill that love - but it never leaves her. Ginger, as mocking in death as she ever was in life, follows Brigitte as she attempts to stave off her inevitable transformation by regularly poisoning herself with monkshood, cutting herself and tracking her healing progress. When Brigitte lands in a rehab facility and is denied the monkshood she so desperately needs, it's Ginger who relishes in describing her symptoms, the merciless onset of the infection that Brigitte willingly took from her sister.
Here's what Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed gets right: the film is as unblinking as its predecessor in its embrace of feminine power and its rejection of societal rules. As the werewolf transformation grows stronger, so does Brigitte's sexual appetite, and a fantasy of a group masturbation therapy session results in a literal hairy palm - just like they warned us. The film opens with loving close-ups of Brigitte's exhaustive shaving routine, a scene later mirrored when Eric Johnson's Tyler is injecting the monkshood into Brigitte's pelvis and tells her, creepily, "So you shave? I think that's great." Boy howdy, does she.
The men in Unleashed are far more predatory than in Ginger Snaps: from the male werewolf stalking Brigitte, determining her as his mate independent of her wishes, to Tyler, an orderly who extorts sex from rehab patients by sneaking them the drugs they crave. Even the supposed nice guys are more like Nice Guys: a flirtatious librarian forces his attentions on a clearly unwilling Brigitte not once but twice, even taking her address from her library card to surprise her at her home, with the excuse of dropping off some books she wanted to borrow. It's incredibly inappropriate, and even though he seems like a decent person and tries to rush Brigitte to the hospital when she goes into anaphylactic shock from the monkshood, it's hard to lament his immediate death by the jealous werewolf. Tyler seems friendly enough and occasionally exhibits human behavior, but even apart from the sexual advantage he takes of women suffering from addiction, he commits the unforgivable sin of telling Brigitte to smile. When he, too, becomes wolf kibble, it's no big loss.
Unleashed exhibits real insight and depth in its examination of trauma, loss and addiction, but, like the films preceding and following it, Ginger Snaps 2 is most interested in examining the idea of sisterhood. And Ginger isn't Brigitte's only ghost sister: she meets Tatiana Maslany's Ghost, a patient at the rehab center who quickly susses out Brigitte's condition and commits herself to helping her. With the death of Ginger and the arrival of Ghost, Brigitte graduates from little sister to big, and it's a journey that does credit to Brigitte's burgeoning strength. The two talk comic books and spoon at a sleepover, and the relationship seems to heal something broken within Brigitte, no longer the weak-willed shadow to Ginger's fiery blaze. When she plans to kill the werewolf stalking her, telling Ginger's phantom that she's stronger now, Ginger replies, "That's not how I remember the first fifteen years of your life," and the new Brigitte seethes, "That's how I remember the last fifteen minutes of yours."
So here's what Unleashed gets wrong: and believe me, I don't relish saying it. But the ending of Unleashed, triumphantly bleak and shocking as it is, undoes every thematic revelation of the previous eighty minutes - and the ninety minutes of Ginger Snaps before that. Ghost cries rape and compels Brigitte to feed Tyler to the werewolf, an ending at odds with every predatory thing Tyler has done heretofore. Tyler's a creep and, by horror movie standards, he deserves to die, but he deserves to die for the bad things he did, not a bad thing he's accused but innocent of. We're robbed of any exultation in his death, because this predator has become a victim of a false rape accusation by a cherubic sociopath.
And then we have the final minutes of the film, in which Brigitte's nearly transformed and asks Ghost to kill her, as she was once forced to kill her own big sister. Instead, Ghost locks her in the basement to be used as her vengeance pet, a living weapon for the many enemies of Ghost's mind. In one way, it's a very clever reversal of the loving death one sister gave another, a fuck you to our expectations (something that can be said of both sequels is that they care not for our expectations stemming from the first film). But it's such a dismal ending to Brigitte's journey. She's the little sister again, the plaything to someone much prettier and more dangerous than she could ever be - only, unlike with Ginger, there is no love tempering the scorn, no true sorority between these two. There is no triumph here, no celebration of feminine power. It's such a dreadful final chapter, and though it's the second film in a trilogy, it's the last we'll ever hear of this Brigitte. She deserves better.
Because the third film is a prequel taking place in a 19th century trading camp, one that's plagued by werewolves and soon visited by antecedents of the Fitzgerald sisters we already know. Once again, Ginger is bitten and, once again, she and Brigitte must fight to keep her safe from suspicious townspeople while searching for a cure from her inexorable transformation.
Here's what Ginger Snaps Back - The Beginning gets wrong: and we'll start with wrong, because there's more of it. Until the final half hour of this film, Brigitte and Ginger are shuttled to the side of the conflict, spending much of the movie wandering around in a daze while the men of the fort take all of the action (often for ill rather than good). If this sounds like a feminist treatise against the history of female subjugation, that may be giving Ginger Snaps Back too much credit, as the movie - though well-paced and charmingly gory - has a fraction of the thematic depth boasted by its two predecessors. There's just not much going on below the surface, which is maybe okay because the surface is quite entertaining, but it makes for a disappointingly skimpy plate in comparison to two such meaty meals.
But here's what Ginger Snaps Back gets right: and it goes a long way toward healing the unjust conclusion of Brigitte's arc in Unleashed. The sisterhood between Brigitte and Ginger is never stronger, as the two women fight to protect one another from every threat - even the reasonable threat of a good man hoping to protect his land from a werewolf invasion. When it becomes clear that Ginger has been infected, Brigitte never considers leaving her, and when Ginger has nearly transformed and runs off in pursuit of flesh, she returns to save Brigitte from death by the hands of the men who blame her for Ginger's carnage. What's more, Brigitte never doubts that her sister will come, and never fears her own death at Ginger's hands - or Ginger's death at hers, as is prophesied by a local seer. They're told time and again that one sister will be responsible for the other's death, but neither succumbs to the prophesy.
We learn that they are the Red and the Black, the two women who will forever alter the course of the werewolves' bloodline, and though it's of course silly that the characters have the same names and identical appearances to two teenage girls in the year 2000, there's something beautiful about that, too, about the lastingness of Brigitte and Ginger's love, of the indelible nature of their sisterhood. They say it over and over in Ginger Snaps Back: "together forever." "Sisters united in blood, together forever." "You're the only thing I have, nothing else. I will not kill you." "Forever, nothing else." Instead of killing Ginger or becoming her prey, Brigitte opens her own wound and presses it against Ginger's, sharing in her infection - a rite that her descendant will repeat two centuries later.
Not death, nor transformation, nor the course of history will separate them. Sisters united in blood, together forever.