It’s sort of an easy comparison, isn’t it? Of course someone would eventually write about the similarities between Ginger Snaps and Jennifer’s Body, two films that both feature a young high school girl slowly morphing into a monster and using her newfound powers to seduce and eventually rip apart the local boys until their remains resemble something closer to lasagna than human bodies. As obvious as pairing these two female-centric horror movies may seem at first glance, the truth is there’s a lot more going on than your typical victim turned vixen in these underrated gems. At their very core, both Jennifer’s Body and Ginger Snaps seek to display a very important commentary on confronting and eventually overcoming toxic female friendships.
John Fawcett and Karyn Kusama have crafted some very special films here. In Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps, death-obsessed sisters Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald avoid the average crowd at school and instead focus their efforts on researching deadly diseases and staging various fake deaths around the house. They are the outcasts of their shiny little suburban town, and they are proud of it. That is, until Ginger gets attacked by a strange dog-like beast in the woods, survives, and starts…changing. Much to her sister’s dismay, Ginger transitions into womanhood at a rapid pace, beginning with her first menstruation, and slowly building into casually kissing random guys in the parking lot, and eventually flashing whoever happens to be standing at the nearest locker. Eventually, Ginger’s figurative devouring of the male senior class takes on a twisted literal sense, and before long, she’s carelessly leaving carcasses in the school hallway like forgotten homework strewn out across the floor.
Now, it seems that her shy sister is the only one who can stand in the way of Ginger tearing the town to pieces, and like it or not, Brigitte must stop cleaning up her bossy sister’s messes, and stand up to her best friend for the very first time.
In Kusama’s vastly under-appreciated Jennifer’s Body, an eerily similar premise is at play. Needy serves as the co-dependent correspondent to her commanding best friend Jennifer, a.k.a. the most beautiful and most popular girl in school. She does everything Jennifer tells her to do, whether attending a rock show at a moment’s notice when she already has plans, wearing her clothes a certain way to appease Jen’s domineering territorial nature, or just acting inferior in general to satisfy her best friend’s overcompensating self-esteem. The aptly named Needy succumbs to being her best friend’s doormat because she has come to believe after all of this time that she needs Jennifer to survive, when in fact it is the other way around. Jen has always kept Needy around as a constant reminder that she is the alpha female, but after a deadly attack in the woods transforms the cheerleader princess into a malevolent demon straight from Hell, her toying with boys takes on a new, far more devious turn, and Needy is forced to confront Jennifer and finally assert herself, even if it means risking her life, in order to do what's right and save the ones she loves.
The films send a strong but crucial message about dealing with self-destructive friendships. In the end, both women find the only way to rise above their harmful lifelong partnerships is to sever that limb. The only way to stand up to their best friends is to kill them.
Obviously, in real life, murder is not the answer for dealing with one’s problems, but in a hyperbolical fantasy method of thinking, it is the resolution these stories seek. To grow up and move on these characters must cut their bestie out of their lives for good. These demons may wear the faces of the women they once knew and loved, but both Brigitte and Needy are aware that their best friends died in the woods after a brutal mauling. That thing that limped back out into the world isn’t their friend anymore. It’s something else. Something merciless and mean spirited and evil that must be stopped.
Horror often uses exaggerated metaphors to drive home a message or explore real life existential crises; Fawcett and Kusama’s films are no exception. Not only do both movies serve as coming-of-age stories, as Ginger and Jennifer experience sexual awakenings through newfound animalistic tendencies, but while these two aggressive women come into their own, so do Brigitte and Needy as they mature into young women finding empowerment through vicious singular independence rather than carnal conquests.
The filmmakers utilize undoubtedly tight scripts, which adds much to the success of both stories’ empowering nature, but each of these movies also feel inherently female. Both directors use a unique visual style that is overtly feminine in refreshing and powerful ways.
Take for instance, the famous hallway scene. The fact is, whether donning a grunge outfit that would bode well in the early ‘90s or a tight little rosy opaque top circa the early 2000s, there’s just something beautiful about a glowing teenage girl marching triumphantly and confidently down the hall of her school, chin raised to the sky and hair bouncing behind her with each graceful step. Coincidentally, both films feature the very same hallway scene to show their leading ladies, Ginger and Jennifer, taking in all the glory of their newfound powers. The scenes, although slightly different in their meaning within the plot, signal their final transition into womanhood, while at the same time metaphorically marking their final ascension into a mythical beast set on unleashing their fury. They’re pleasing to watch, but they also contain deeper meaning.
Taking these scenes into consideration, one can see two very important aspects of these features. First, both films are aware of the entertainment value required to reel in viewers who will listen to the films’ messages. Second and more importantly, they are relatable stores because in the end, they offer familiar recollections of challenging high school memories. These films feel grounded because they take place in a spot everyone has been – high school – but they also serve as a reminder that there’s always room for inner growth, and always a spot six feet under for anyone who stands in the way of one’s happiness.
Ginger Snaps and Jennifer’s Body are known as female-centric horror films about girls turning into deadly creatures, but they are so much more than that. Both John Fawcett and Karyn Kusama have created deeply layered films that not only work as script-flipping monster movies where a woman is the predator and the men are the prey, but that also, in an exaggerated, fantastical way, highlight an important lesson many adolescent women struggle with: there is always some way to rise above toxic female friendships, even if that means battling a demon to the death armed with nothing but a murder weapon from Home Depot.