Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ginger Snaps Unleashed

When I reviewed ‘Ginger Snaps’ as part of the “13 for Halloween” project back in October, my buddy Aaron – formerly of The Death Rattle, now happily raising hell again at The Bone Throne, and a contributor to Italian Film Review and The Gentleman’s Blog To Midnight Cinema – asked if I’d be reviewing the sequel and prequel. I said I probably would. I had the chance to watch them recently, pretty much back-to-back. I’ll be reviewing ‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’ tonight and ‘Ginger Snaps Back’ tomorrow.

(Elements of both films contain SPOILERS if you’ve never seen the original. And if you haven’t, stop reading now and go rent it – it’s a belter!)

‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’ is, on paper at least, about as linear as sequels get, continuing the story very shortly after ‘Ginger Snaps’ left off: Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) is dead and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), having deliberately infected herself at the end of the first movie, is using the serum with which she hoped to save her sister. Only it’s keeping the lycanthropy in check rather than actually curing it. Added to this, having left the parental home and living a low-key existence in the big city, Brigitte is plagued with visions of Ginger – a mocking, accusatory, spiteful version of her sister who is either a ghost or a projection of Brigitte’s guilt complex.

Oh yeah, and there’s another werewolf hunting her down. Just in case the girl didn’t have enough problems.

When said werewolf attacks a sympathetic student who tries to help her, Brigitte is wounded. The serum is found on her person. There are track marks on her arm. Brigitte is put under custody at an addict’s clinic. Operating at near bankruptcy, the clinic also treats private long-term patients, such as the elderly woman mummified in bandages after suffering extreme burn injuries, whose precocious granddaughter (Tatiana Maslany) – nicknamed Ghost by the staff – keeps a comic-book reading vigil and enjoys free run of the clinic.

Brigitte doesn’t respond well to life here. The bitchy cliques of the other girls (most of whom seem to have wandered in from the casting call for ‘Sorority Row’), the ministrations of the male orderly who trades narcotics for blow-jobs, and the whiny self-aggrandizement of the therapy sessions doesn’t go down well with her.

When the werewolf shows up, finds a way into the building and starts decimating all and sundry, it’s the final straw and Brigitte reluctantly enlists Ghost’s help in an all-or-nothing escape attempt.

‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’ is a strange but eminently watchable piece of work. The opening credits are a headfuck in the vein of ‘Seven’. Early scenes suggest a character piece: Brigitte alone. The extended clinic sequence, occupying the middle third, edges into ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ territory by way of ‘Girl, Interrupted’, and offers us a lycanthropy-as-metaphor-for-addiction scenario that serves as a counterpoint to, and development of, its predecessor’s lycanthropy-as-metaphor-for-sexual-development subtext. The constant threat of Brigitte’s lupine nemesis brings the horror genre requirements.

Then things start going off the scale. The turning point is a therapy session that jolts Brigitte back to the erstwhile sex/lycanthropy subtext; while thematically valid, the scene plays out like an irony-free remake of the Eric Prydz ‘Call on Me’ video. Later, Brigitte and Ghost escape the clinic and hole up at Ghost’s grandmother’s place where it quickly becomes apparent that Brigitte’s young benefactress has a few skeletons of her own in the family closet.

As much as I enjoyed ‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’, it felt as if the filmmakers were congenitally unsure what kind of film they wanted to make, what aspect of the admittedly interesting cluster of ideas sprinkled throughout the script they wanted to focus on, and what they wanted to achieve in the tense but stylistically schizophrenic finale. The closing shot, in particular, seems to belong to another film entirely. It’s inspired and darkly satirical, but things have deviated so far at this point from the carefully constructed and socially/geographically grounded world of ‘Ginger Snaps’ that it’s hard not to feel a tinge of disappointment.

The other problem with ‘Unleashed’ is that it relegates Katharine Isabelle to a glorified cameo and puts the entire film on Emily Perkins’s shoulders. ‘Ginger Snaps’ worked so brilliantly because it focused on the sisters’ relationship; the chemistry between Isabelle and Perkins was natural and immediate. ‘Unleashed’ suffers from the (necessary) sidelining of Isabelle.

‘Ginger Snaps Back’ restores the filial dynamic. But is it the better movie? Find out tomorrow …


A.D. said...

Great review, Neil! Glad you finally got around to it. You pretty much nailed it on the head, and I'm glad you mentioned the opening credits which did a great job of sucking me into the movie the first time I saw it (I probably should have worded that better). It doesn't hold up as well on repeat viewings for me, but I still enjoy it. Even though Ginger's presence was missed, I still liked that there's a film out there primarily about Bridgette. Also, was Ghost not one of the most obnoxious characters you've ever seen? Or maybe she just struck a nerve with me. Can't wait to read your SNAPS BACK review tomorrow.

Neil Fulwood said...

Yeah, I know what you mean about Ghost. Man, was I wanting to punch her by the end of the movie!

'Unleashed' has a lot going for it, even if it is a bit schizophrenic in tone and that opening credits sequence really gets your attention.

My review of 'Ginger Snaps Back' is now online.