February 21, 2013

"Blood & Guts in High School: Ginger Snaps" by Jenn McCreary

We meet death-obsessed teen sisters Brigitte and Ginger (aged fifteen & sixteen respectively, but in the same grade due to brainy Brigitte having been skipped) as self-identified social outcasts who revel in their lack of status. Skulking in baggy pants and oversized jackets, smoking during gym class, and mocking the jocks and mean girls who backfill their high school in pop-culture shorthand, they spend their time staging elaborate & gorgeous death tableaus for an undefined school project. They are all inside jokes and private exchanges; they drip with sarcasm & condescension for anyone outside their circle of two. They make Winona Ryder’s Lydia and/or Veronica look like Mary Fucking Sunshine. Their bond—& their pact made at age eight, out by sixteen, or dead in the scene, together forever—is the emotional core of the film, a Canadian horror flick that’s kind of about werewolves, but really about girls, sisters, of female bonds and how they break.

So when Ginger is attacked by a lycanthrope shortly after the onset of her first period, it’s difficult to separate the two occurrences. The sisters are alone, at night, at a playground, and have just found the mutilated corpse of a dog, the latest victim of The Beast of Bailey Downs. Brigitte initially mistakes the blood on Ginger’s leg for that of the mutilated dog’s; realizing the older sister has in fact begun menstruating for the first time triggers revulsion and disgust in both girls, but their shared reaction barely has time to register before The Beast snatches Ginger—attracted by the scent of her blood.  The attack is a blur of fur and fangs, and not without sexual overtones, but Brigitte is ultimately able to pull Ginger free.  They are pursued on foot and the Beast is struck and killed by a van full of pot-smoking classmates (this movie has no need for silver bullets).

Ginger:  B…I got the curse.

Brigitte:  Ew. Gross.

Ginger: Well, it’s not contagious!

Brigitte: I know that.

Ginger: God. You kill yourself to be different, and your own body betrays you.

And, indeed, upon returning home, Ginger’s body begins to change almost immediately.  Her wounds are already healing, and over the next few days fur begins to sprout from her scars (a trip to the school nurse at which the girls express concern about Ginger’s bleeding and the hair growing in ‘new places’ earns them a few choice words on the magic of puberty and a fistful of condoms). 

But more disturbingly for Brigitte, Ginger starts to embrace her change. She appears doing that slow-motion high school hallway walk now de rigueur in teen movies, sashaying in fitted skirt, tight shirt riding up to reveal a sliver of taut stomach, hair fluttering away from her face, coy smile playing across her mouth as wolf whistles (literally) follow her down the hall—and Brigitte’s face exhibits both dismay and betrayal as she slumps into her locker.

Things progress quickly—both Ginger’s descent into lycanthropy and into adolescence.  She accepts an invitation to get high with the same jock boys she and Brigitte had formerly mocked and dismissed.  She makes out with one of the boys against the hood of his car (while Brigitte, who has been tracking the moon cycles and Ginger’s growing blood lust, tries to urge them apart and ultimately calls after them, as they speed away in his car, a hilariously panicked warning ‘hey! she’s…ovulating!’). And upon finding herself alone in the proverbial backseat with her chosen boy, Ginger becomes aggressor, much to his dismay:

Jason: Take it easy!  We’ve got all night.

Ginger: Sorry.  It’s just that you taste really good.

Jason: Just… lie back and relax.

Ginger (eyes narrowing): YOU lie back and relax.

Jason (laughing nervously): Hey, who’s the guy here?

Ginger (growls): Who’s the guy here? (pushes him down & pins him flat on his back to the seat). Who’s the fucking guy here?!

Jason (whimpering): Don’t…don’t we need protection? Stop! Wait!

Ginger (tearing open his shirt): You’re fucking hilarious, cave boy.

Ginger later returns home to Brigitte, covered with blood (not Jason’s—she’s stopped to kill and eat a dog post-coitus)—Brigitte insisting, “if he hurt you, you should tell.” Ginger sets her straight quickly: “There’s something wrong with me. I get this ache. And I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear things into fucking pieces.” 

Brigitte promises to help find a cure, a way to change Ginger back, enlists the help of the school’s pot dealer (who has an interest in both lycanthropy and botany, of course) and sets about witching up a potion of monkshood. But here’s the thing: Brigitte wants to change Ginger back, sure—back from being a lycanthrope, killing the neighborhood dogs, bullies, high school faculty; but mostly back from being a Hot Topic-wearing, pot-smoking, boy-fucking young woman. Back to the girl who was her other half. She wants her sister back. Conversely, Ginger has developed a taste for boys and blood and wants Brigitte to come along for the ride. Dipping her fingers into the chest of a janitor she’s just killed (“I didn’t like the way he was looking at you,” she growls to Brigitte, by way of explanation), Ginger tells her:

You’d like it. It feels so good, Brigitte—it’s like touching yourself, you know? Every move, right on the fucking dot. And after? You see fucking fireworks. Supernovas. I’m a goddamn force of nature.

Brigitte refuses to join her sister—and Ginger is devastated, angry, reminds her of their pact: “’Together forever’—I said I’d  die for you!” Brigitte corrects her, softly, “You said you’d die with me…because you didn’t have anything better to do.”

And of course, there’s no going back for Ginger—she doesn’t really want to. And Brigitte can’t quite catch up—she doesn’t really want to, either. And finally, the film ends with Brigitte, unable to join her sister in monsterhood, weeping over Ginger’s broken wolf-body after their final fight, in their shared bedroom, between their twin beds, snapshots from their staged death tableaus still taped to the walls. Because this is what happens, wolfish or no, as girls grow up and apart and leave each other, in the dark mouth of living. It’s a bloody business, with no monkshood known to fix it.

Jenn McCreary
is a Pussipoet living in Philadelphia. Her newest book, & now my feet are maps, will be published this spring by Dusie Press. She often stays up too late watching horror movies while the rest of her house is asleep.

No comments: