Monday, October 19, 2015

United Against Life As We Know It

Ginger Snaps (2000)

GINGER SNAPS: Katharine Isabelle as Ginger Fitzgerald in one of the sisters' death scenarios

My favorite part of Halloween has always been the costumes. I usually start planning as early as December, but this year I'm fresh out of inspiration. I could always bust out my trusty Elvira costume or my personal favorite, blood-and-brain-splattered Jackie-O. I was particularly proud of my homemade Tura Satana costume but that ensemble has rotated its way into my regular wardrobe. Audrey Reynolds said she was going as Sue Ellen Ewing from DALLAS this year so it's pretty hard to beat that.

But you know the one thing that sticks in my craw about Halloween? These rampaging bimbosteins that use Halloween as an excuse to parade around in the skankiest outfits possible. Now, I have nothing against costumes being sexy. Hell, it's Halloween and two out of the three favorite costumes of mine I listed here are cleavage-centric. It's the sheer lack of imagination that gets my goat. I mean, they could at least dress up as a hooker like Audrey's older sister Alice Lee did for career day in high school! I had this roommate in college who on Halloween night put on a costume four sizes too small and looked like she was prepared to perform the floor show that damned men must be subjected to in the ninth circle of hell.
"What are you supposed to be?" I asked.
She rolled her eyes and sneered, "I'm Little Bo Peep."
I was actually relieved because for a moment there, I thought that plastic sheep was for far more nefarious purposes.
She was an Exercise Sports Science major and was failing all her classes. We're talkin' dumber than a sack of hammers.

I dunno, I just hate the idea of this glorious Pagan holiday being profaned by some ho-zillas seeking cheap sexual validation to boost their shattered self-esteems.

I asked Marie Janisse what she was going to be for Halloween but she just told me to let her know when that jerk family across the street started having people over to tour the Hallelujah House in their garage because she wanted to come over and walk around naked with the curtains open. I didn't argue with her because a naked Marie Janisse is a force to be reckoned with. She's madder than a wet nun about them referring to her as the devil's whore. Last week, she scrawled "It's Time for Helter Skelter, Bitches!" on their door and left a pig's head on their front steps. They better hope they've got Jesus on their side, because Marie Janisse is out for blood.

And speaking of rampaging female sexuality, today I'm talking about GINGER SNAPS, the fifth film in the 31 Days of Halloween review-a-thon, written by KAREN WALTON and directed by JOHN FAWCETT. Sardonic, gleefully antisocial Ginger Fitzgerald (Canadian scream queen KATHARINE ISABELLE) and her slightly younger sister, whip-smart, deadpan Brigitte (EMILY PERKINS), are teenage outcasts and best friends, united by their mutual alienation and hatred of the vacuous inhabitants of their suburban Canadian town, Bailey Downs. The girls spend their time avoiding their cheery handicraft-loving mother, Pamela (MIMI ROGERS), devising ridiculous obituaries for their tormentor, mean girl jockette Trina Sinclair (DANIELLE HAMPTON), and staging outrageously gory death scenarios. The girls are inseparable and share a suicide pact as literal death seems preferable to them over the prolonged death of conventional adult womanhood.

GINGER SNAPS: Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald

On the night Ginger starts her first period, she is attacked by a monstrous wolf creature in the woods. Alarmed by the fact that Ginger's cuts have already begun healing, Brigitte wants to seek medical attention but Ginger dissuades her. But Ginger begins transforming: she dresses more like a vixen and she returns the attentions of high-school "caveboy" Jason McCarty (JESSE MOSS). "You're doing drugs with guys," Brigitte says. "Something is definitely wrong." Ginger also sprouts a tail, her features grow more wolf-like and she begins killing neighborhood pets to feed a newfound hunger. Brigitte finds an ally in local pot dealer, Sam (KRIS LEMCHE) to find a cure for Ginger but as Ginger comes to embrace her monstrousness, she may not want to be cured.

With the contribution of screenwriter KAREN WALTON, GINGER SNAPS is one of the few films I think accurately and effectively depicts the tumultuous emotions, the anger and alienation, anxiety about impending adulthood and the intense bond of female friendship of adolescence (the two others that come to mind are HEAVENLY CREATURES and GHOST WORLD). All of the female characters presented are multi-faceted and defy the stereotypes they could have fallen into. Most horror films about teenagers are coming-of-age stories in genre dressing and GINGER SNAPS uses the myth of the werewolf to explore aspects of female adolescence.

The relationship of the Fitzgerald sisters is the heart of the film and undeniably why it resonates so well. The dissolution of an inseparable teenage friendship is a painful part of becoming an adult and something a majority of viewers can relate to. As a morbid, smart-alecky outsider (teenage and otherwise), I identified with Ginger and Brigitte, particularly Brigitte's journey into dreaded adulthood. Like the girls, I reveled in shock value as a reaction to my conformist environment, but unlike the girls, I thought adulthood offered a welcome reprieve in that I could finally make my own world versus being the outsider looking in.

Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald in GINGER SNAPS

Like many horror film heroines, Brigitte's maturation is accomplished not through sexual experience but through survival. In her quest to help Ginger, Brigitte proves to be an adept researcher and a resourceful problem solver. Where before Ginger was the dominant personality in the relationship, ("You just do whatever she tells you to, you always have," Pamela scolds her) Brigitte finally individuates, developing enough confidence to assert herself in a healthy manner and to no longer live in her sister's shadow. While their relationship was a source of support for both young women, it was also unequal and grows increasingly toxic as Ginger changes.
"You ruin everything for me that isn't about you," Brigitte tells her transformed sister.
Brigitte ultimately outgrows the relationship and decides she does not have to become the kind of woman her community demands that she be or even the perpetual second fiddle to her demanding sister: she can become the kind of woman she wants to be.
"I'm not dying in this room with you!" she declares. "I'm not dying!" And thus embraces her journey into adult womanhood.

GINGER SNAPS: Emily Perkins as Brigitte Fitzgerald

Ginger's journey is a far more nihilistic one. Some have accused the film of biting its own feminist tail in that it depicts female sexuality as monstrous, but I think this interpretation is overly simplistic. The film's portrayal of female sexuality is an ambivalent one, illustrating both the exhilaration and terror experienced in female teenage years. It's undeniable that North American culture views female sexuality as monstrous, an uncontrollable force that needs to be managed with various neatly packaged products so that we do not scare away potential boyfriends. The double-standard still exists that men are free to indulge in their sexual desires, while the sexual desires of women are to be controlled and monitored. Because of this, Ginger becomes a representation of the female id; we simultaneously want to be like her (sexy, dangerous, uninhibited) and afraid of becoming her if we let go. Ginger's transformation conveys the physical pain, the distaste for new body changes, the awkwardness of initial sexual experiences and the simultaneous discomfort and excitement that comes with intense, burgeoning sexual desires. Ginger also finds power in her sexuality; she turns heads as she walks through the halls, she takes charge in gratifying her desires, returns the aggression of the men around her and has the guts to smack down the gym class alpha bitch. For a male viewer, the Monstrous Female confirms their fear of female sexuality as the unknown, and also fears of being sexually undesirable or unable to perform. For female viewers, monstrous women in horror films like Ginger are a strange wish-fulfilment allowing them to vicariously indulge in their inhibited desires.

GINGER SNAPS: Katharine Isabelle as Ginger Fitzgerald

But Ginger is also tragic in that she bends everything towards self-destruction. Without the werewolf symbolism, she is the equivalent of a young woman who uses sex to hurt her partner and ultimately herself. She becomes increasingly selfish in her relationship with her sister; though she puts mistas before sistas (pretty un-feminist of her), she wants Brigitte all to herself. Brigitte is ultimately not allowed to exist outside her orbit.
"I'm a force of fucking nature," Ginger purrs. But Ginger ultimately becomes a raging hurricane that destroys everything in her path. Though Ginger, like any teenager undergoing a series of changes, is by turns overwhelmed, afraid, angry or in denial about what is happening to her, she eventually embraces her monstrousness and, on a subversive note, actually enjoys killing, equating it to the pleasure she receives from masturbation. Female sexual desire - and particularly sexual enjoyment - are rarely depicted on film. Somehow, Ginger's monstrousness makes this permissible. It's interesting to note many antiheroines in horror films discover self-confidence and embrace their sexuality through violence (such as Thana's transformation in MS. 45 ).  Once again, I think this has less to do with these films demonizing female sexuality than mirroring how female sexuality is regarded in North American culture. Monsters are metaphors for the darker sides of the human psyche. Since female sexuality is taboo, viewed as something that needs to be repressed, controlled and shamed when it is not, a Monstrous Female is the transgressive id, the urges that refuse to be repressed. Through genre conventions, the audience (both male and female) can explore these impulses and forbidden desires safely and comfortably.

GINGER SNAPS: Ginger Fitzgerald wolfs out

WALTON's script is smart and irreverent, presenting a gleeful skewering of superficial suburban values and teen angst through the perspective of outsiders. Her dialogue is also clever without devolving into self-indulgence and favorably recalls HEATHERS. Naturally, the performances of KATHARINE ISABELLE and EMILY PERKINS carry the film. ISABELLE's razor wit, feral sensuality and sinewy body are perfect for the role of Ginger and she essays the character's transformation flawlessly. PERKINS as the Wednesday Addams-ish Brigitte matches her every step of the way in her character's less showy but equally remarkable emotional transformation. She conveys Brigitte's odd mannerisms, her scowl and her awkward slouch but also brings forth Brigitte's sensitivity and fierce intelligence. MIMI ROGERS is also excellent (and very funny) as Pamela, who is not quite the ditzy suburban housewife she seems to be.
The autumnal photography is beautiful and evokes just the perfect Halloween feeling. I also cannot say enough about the score, which perfectly enhances the emotional nuances of the film.

Whatever you think about the film's metaphor of female-teenage-sex-werewolf, GINGER SNAPS is noteworthy in how it depicts young women; films centering on female friendships where the male characters are secondary are few and far between (especially in the horror genre). It's always refreshing to see a film, horror or otherwise, featuring intelligent, offbeat and defiantly strange female protagonists who don't fit neatly into a stereotype. "Trust me, a woman can only be a bitch, a slut, a tease or the virgin next door," Ginger informs Brigitte, but fortunately that is not the case with this movie. The physical and emotional changes one endures during adolescence can be overwhelming and even horrifying, particularly as a young woman when the roles you are assigned are especially limited, and I believe that is what GINGER SNAPS hits the bullseye in conveying.

GINGER SNAPS: Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald

No comments:

Post a Comment