“Abandon hope all who enters.” This should be the tagline for the “Ginger Snaps” franchise because it fits the films to a “T”. There is almost no hope, no ray of light, not even a sparkle of possibility in any of the two films. And that’s exactly what makes them so different and just so good. As was the case with the original, “Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed” is really a gritty teen drama about the perversity of human nature in the guise of a horror film.
I will admit to not remembering too many details about “Ginger Snaps”, which came out four years ago and became a cult hit — at least a big enough hit to warrant this sequel and an upcoming prequel. What I do remember is that the film had a fantastic sense of itself, and offered up a clever metaphor for the pain of growing up by way of standard werewolf conventions. I also remembered that the original was never afraid to take chances with its gore, of which there was a lot, especially in the end.
The sequel finds Brigitte (Emily Perkins) walking the dark and frozen landscape of an unnamed Canadian city in the bloody aftermath of the original. Although Brigitte is alone, spending her time reading books from the library and living a solitary existence in a motel, big sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) appears to her as figments of her imagination. Having willingly ejected herself with her sister’s tainted blood in the original, Brigitte is now starting to turn into a werewolf herself. To stop the transformation, she’s self-injecting a herbal serum that seems to stem the transformation — at least for a while.
But Brigitte’s existence isn’t exactly lonely — she’s being stalked by a male werewolf intent on mating with her. After the wolf attacks and causes Brigitte to lose unconsciousness, she wakes up inside a center for troubled girls. Here, she meets the mysterious and highly resourceful Ghost (Tatiana Maslany), who takes great interest in Brigitte’s condition. Confined and denied of her needed serum, Brigitte goes to great lengths to avert her transformation, even as the werewolf continues to stalk her…
Like the original, “Unleashed” proves to be more than just a horror movie. Oh sure, there’s plenty of gore and blood for the gorefiends, but if one was inclined to look at the film from a deeper perspective, Megan Martin’s script has quite a bit to say about painful adolescence and the establishment that can’t possibly understand them, although it tries mightily. Janet Kidder (“X-Change”) plays the administrator of the clinic, whose character is a former addict herself. The film elicits some chuckles when Kidder confesses to Brigitte, in an attempt to share common ground with the girl, that she knows exactly what the girl is going through. Of course we know that she doesn’t have a clue, and so does Brigitte.
In a lot of ways, “Unleashed” might just be more daring and perverse than the original. To that effect, Eric Johnson (TV’s “Smallville”) plays Tyler, a young orderly at the clinic who wouldn’t be such a bad guy if not for his lasciviousness and penchant for blackmailing the troubled girls into his own dirty brand of sex. Even Tatiana Maslany, the seemingly innocuous busybody who seems to have everything figured out, including Brigitte’s impending werewolf transformation, has moments that makes us question her motives, past and present. Next to Ghost, Tyler, and the other girls at the clinic, Brigitte seems practically normal!
Emily Perkins reprises the role of Brigitte and the actress doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. Perkins still has that frail, thin body and that sharp, pale face that makes her Goth-inspired character so believable. In the sequel Brigitte is a shadow of her former self, a young woman with an impressive array of bodily scars courtesy of self-mutilation. In an effort to chronicle how fast her body is changing, Brigitte cuts herself and times how long it takes the scars to heal. Unfortunately for her, while the scars heal and stop bleeding, they don’t completely go away, leading one of the girls at the clinic to make fun of Brigitte’s assumed inability to kill herself.
Although “Unleashed” was directed and written by different filmmakers than those responsible for the original, there’s nevertheless a very strong sense of continuity not just in the storytelling, but also in how the story is told. Brett Sullivan’s direction is very effective without being overly elaborate. The soundtrack is very appropriate, and the movie’s foley work is quite good, even impressive. The creative blend of music and slick camerawork gives “Unleashed” an expensive and polished look.
But effective direction is only half the job; the other half involves a good script. Megan Martin is more than capable, turning what could have been a generic horror film into something much more. This is a very good film built from a very strong script. The sequel could have easily changed the tone completely and gone in a whole new direction, but it doesn’t. The grittiness is still there, the daring is still present, and the film still works on more than one level.
It goes without saying that the “Ginger Snaps” films could never have existed within the framework of the Hollywood system. Only outside the system could a movie like this get made. Thank God for Canada.
Brett Sullivan (director) / Megan Martin (screenplay)
CAST: Emily Perkins …. Brigitte
Katharine Isabelle …. Ginger
Tatiana Maslany …. Ghost
Janet Kidder …. Alice
Eric Johnson …. Tyler