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Skeleton Crew: Emily Perkins and a costumed buddy are faced with an outbreak of lycanthropy in John Fawcett's 'Ginger Snaps.'

Wolf Runners

'Ginger Snaps' illuminates werewolf genre with keen sense of the feminine

By Richard von Busack

HERES'S A DISAPPOINTMENT: a horror film that starts uncommonly well and then drifts into the usual blood bath with an unconvincing critter effect. Ginger Snaps begins as a werewolf version of Heathers. Director John Fawcett hooks the viewer with an extraordinarily bland Canadian suburb, Bailey Downs (could it be named after George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life?). It's recently ex-prairie, as surreally monotonous as the housing development in Atom Egoyan's The Adjuster. Anything could be possible in such a remote place.

Here, the Fitzgerald sisters are perishing of boredom and planning to kill themselves to get out. Beautiful Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), the elder, has a face like a debauched Botticelli angel; her sibling, the cranky, sour and short Brigitte (Emily Perkins), called B., is more like the progeny of Lotte Lenya and Tim Burton. For an art project, the girls stage their own self-destruction and photograph the results, including their notes in the frame ("No Comment" was my favorite). In fact, this art project doesn't cause too much comment. The girls' mother, so accepting that she's like a 5-year-old, is merrily played by Mimi Rogers. No one seems too het up about a local phenomenon even weirder than the Fitzgeralds: the neighborhood dogs are being mangled by something nicknamed "The Beast of Bailey Downs."

One night, the beast comes for Ginger, exactly at the moment of her first menstrual period, as she and her sister are loitering in a park. After mauling Ginger, the creature gets away only to be splattered by a speeding van driven by the local drug dealer. Ginger heals with supernatural quickness and suddenly changes into a raging party girl. She grows teeth, talons and a bald little tail; meanwhile, B. conspires with the pot dealer to try to figure out a New Age remedy for lycanthropy. Ginger, however, already suspects that the dealer might be perfect for her next meal: "He seems right for a little negative attention."

Let's congratulate Ginger Snaps for its feminist slant. Fawcett was an ex-director for TV's Xena: Warrior Princess, and he takes the idea of running with wolves to its logical end. Fawcett's on to something by recreating the I Was a Teenage Werewolf genre, though more explicit about how hormones turn kids hairy and bestial. But the film goes predictable in the finale, bringing out an unconvincing latex loup-garou to sub for the much more unsettling real-life Ginger, satisfyingly played by Isabelle. What starts as something novel, funny and eerie turns into a fairly typical gross-out complete with basement ordeal and surviving virgin. The film that tries to break the conventions of the genre ends up following them doggedly--or rather, wolfishly.

Ginger Snaps (Unrated; 100 min.), directed by John Fawcett, written by Fawcett and Karen Walton, photographed by Thom Best and starring Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the October 4-10, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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