Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ginger Snaps Back (2004): or, The Past is a Bitch, and So Am I

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 8!

In the winter of 1815, sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) are traveling by river through the Canadian wilderness when their riverboat capsizes, their parents and protectors drown, and they find themselves stranded miles from civilization. As bad as that sounds, things get even worse: they discover an Indian camp that has recently been the scene of a slaughter--huge holes in the tepees, blood and guts everywhere, and the only survivor a mystical old seer whose predictions are (predictably) cryptic and grim. After Brigitte steps into an iron wolf trap, a strong but silent Native American hunter (Nathaniel Arcand) helps the girls to relative safety--a wooden fort under the command of a fur trading company. But the wary unwelcome they receive (and the inch-deep, bloody scratches on the heavily fortified gates) hint that there might be even more dangers in store for our intrepid siblings.

If you're familiar at all with the first two entries in this series, you'll know that the cause of all the trouble is a bad case of Werewolfery, which Hunter says the Europeans brought to their land, just like the plagues of small-pox and alcoholism. Running out of supplies and surrounding by a ferocious pack of man-beasts, the widowed Captain Wallace Rowlands (Tom McCamus) is also hiding a dark secret about the supposed death of his son--a secret that will of course land Ginger right in the middle of the full-moon madness, with Brigitte the only one she can count on to help her break the curse. But given the choice between sisterly loyalty and rescuing future generations from the Horror of the Werewolf, what will the kind-hearted but needy younger sibling do?

I was a big fan of Ginger Snaps (2000), finding it a refreshing, even invigorating entry in the werewolf subgenre, which had been languishing arguably ever since the triumph of 1981's monster masterpiece An American Werewolf in London. I also very much enjoyed the second entry, Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (2004, filmed back to back with its sequel), which in my humble should have been a star-making turn for Emily Perkins in a complex, harrowing role she absolutely knocked out of the park. I thought the movies had some great fresh ideas--I love the relationship between the outcast sisters, and the notion of the transformation as gradual and one-way; in this world, when you turn, you turn forever, making the race to find a cure that much more intense. However, I somehow missed this third installment, and the lukewarm reviews it received upon its release (much of which expressed bafflement at the decision to go period-piece with the story) did nothing to make me rush out and see it.

However, this many years after the fact and able to view it on its own merits, I found Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning a well-made, entertaining, and even thrilling modern werewolf movie. Director Grant Harvey makes good use of the Canadian wilderness and period sets, creating a believable window into the past. And DP Michael Marshall deserves props for his gorgeous shots of some absolutely beautiful scenery, to say nothing of his lensing of the exciting werewolf battles and dream sequences.

But of course the heart of all three movies is the relationship between sisters Brigitte and Ginger, their outsider status and absolute devotion to one another. While I found it extremely difficult to buy Isabelle as an 1800s teenage, Perkins once again turns in a fantastic, emotional performance--one which drew me in and made me concerned for her, and thus frightened and excited by the werewolves' attacks (and the menace from baddies inside the fort: leering Reverend Gilbert and battle-scarred soldier James (Hugh Dillon and JR Bourne, respectively). The other trapped trappers provide good performances as well, and the director gets some mileage out of the religious, racial, and personal tensions their precarious situation brings out.

Standing on its own, Ginger Snaps Back is a well-made period horror film that I think would make a good companion piece to fan-favorite Wendigo-flick Ravenous (1999), and could go toe-to-toe with it, for that matter. Another 2.5 thumb rating.

"I didn't mean to eat all the jelly donuts! OMG, Brigitte, help me!"


JamiSings said...

Didn't they find evidence about five or so years ago that STDs and other diseases were amongst native populations LONG before there were Europeans in the mix? I read somewhere they found either Mayans or Aztecs remains that had syphilis long before any Europeans were even sailing that far.

And I really should add this series to my NetFlix queue.

Chet Of The Undead said...

Hot Canadian Chicks, Werewolves, and backbacon...sounds like an early evening well-spent....


(Sorry, but I had to end it like that! It's inernational protocol when discussing Canadians lol :) )

Samuel Wilson said...

Vicar, this one really took the series into Naschy territory insofar as it's less a prequel than a reenactment of the fundamental story in a different time and place. I don't recall seeing the second film but the original and this one were both fun and sorta moving. A cool choice for this month.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Samuel--Gah! I can't believe I didn't make the Naschy connection with this! What kind of superfan am I? :P You're right, this is absolutely the type of thing Naschy did with Daninsky...if I'd thought of that before reviewing, I'd likely have given it an even higher rating! :D

Anyway, I wouldn't mind seeing more Ginger Snaps movies, so long as Perkins kept coming back. How about Ginger Snaps in SPAAAAACE?

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