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Teenage Hormones Turn Feral in ‘Ginger Snaps’

In this feminist horror film, a werewolf bite leads to a savage metamorphosis that reveals the workings of sex, puberty and sisterhood

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at Ginger Snaps, a feminist werewolf coming-of-age film, currently streaming on Shudder and Peacock.

Ginger and Bridgitte Fitzgerald are teenage sisters with a love for the grotesque, anti-social personalities and the suicide pact they’ve made with each other. This is all fine and well until Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is attacked by a savage creature the night she finally gets her long-delayed period. Soon after, she begins going through bizarre changes that lead Bridgitte (Emily Perkins) to believe her sister is becoming a werewolf. As Ginger becomes more and more destructive, it’s up to Bridgitte to try and find a way to keep her sister from becoming someone (or something) she can’t recognize.

Horror has long been a genre that features female leads, but it’s rarely thoughtful in its portrayals of womanhood. Ginger Snaps is acutely conscious of that. Ginger and Bridgitte are clearly horror fans, creating a grim tableaux where they stage violent deaths for themselves and fantasizing about how popular girls at school will die. Both several years late to menstruate, they also have a clear disdain for womanhood and what they perceive as weak feminine behavior. They resent male attention, deride sexually active women as sluts, and when Ginger finally gets her period, she refers to it as “the curse.” 

With Ginger Snaps, screenwriter Karen Walton chose to eschew traditional werewolf lore to create a vision of puberty as body horror. Rather than completely changing on every full moon and then reverting back, Ginger slowly but steadily goes through a violent metamorphosis in which her body and her desires become unrecognizable. She’s growing hair in places where there wasn’t any before, her body is developing into a different shape and she’s constantly angry and violently lustful. And there’s blood. A shit ton of blood. 

Ginger Snaps’ depiction of werewolves is heavily sexual as well. As Ginger’s transformation ensues, she becomes sexually active and more confident in her body. She gains not only a desire for sex, but a more visceral craving for flesh, attacking a boy after the two of them sleep together. In this world, lycanthropy is akin to a sexually transmitted infection that can be transferred through unprotected sex. 

There’s a feminine anger there, too, with Ginger feeling cornered by misogynistic double standards around casual sex. As she explains to Bridgitte, “He got laid, I’m just a lay.”

In contrast, Bridgitte stays completely non-sexual throughout the film, forming a platonic connection with a local drug dealer named Sam who also saw the werewolf and wants to help her find a cure (she lies to him and says she’s the one who got bitten).

This drives home another thematic point of focus in Walton’s script — the complicated relationships that exist between women. At the film’s start, Ginger and Bridgitte both resent their bodies and only find real comfort in the connection between them. But as Ginger starts changing and Bridgitte spends more time with Sam, that bond becomes increasingly strained, with Ginger becoming possessive over her sister and unable to understand why she’d distance herself from her. It’s a tendency I recognize all too well from personal experience, having also been a teen outcast in a co-dependent relationship with my best friend. As your bodies develop and desires change, resentment builds and connections are tested by desires and pains that feel alienating and all-consuming. 

After all, everything feels so big as a teen girl already. The last thing you want is to suddenly start growing a tail. 

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.