In her re-view of Ginger Snaps 2: UnleashedMaggie McMuffin reveals a dark, terrible secret: her intense childhood obsession with lycanthropy. (#TW: subtance abuse & suicide.)

Ginger Snaps was a formative movie for me. I saw it when I was 12, about a year before getting my period. (I was actually one of the late bloomers in my class so naturally I was the girl who really wanted it to happen.) It kick started a weird phase of mine where I read everything I could about lycanthropy and actually tried to find a way to become a werewolf. (Many of the methods involved needing a werewolf or at least a wolf around so I was out of luck.) Really, if I had to choose a movie that really affected me it would be this one and I still hold it up as my favorite horror movie and my favorite lycanthropy-as-metaphor for puberty/high school movie. It’s great. Please go watch it.

But this review is about Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed. A less talked about follow up that came out a few years later. By the time trailers were showing on TV, I was out of the werewolf woods and settling into the throes of adolescent depression. I wore less black but read more sad Victorian literature. I had managed to make more friends but often felt more isolated. But Ginger Snaps had had such an effect on me in middle school that I jumped at the thought of a sequel. Even though the last few moments of the first movie end in such a wonderfully depressing way, it clearly had an opening for future adventures with Brigitte Fitzgerald.

It took me months to see the film. It didn’t play anywhere near my small town and it wasn’t until I was visiting my dad and stepmother that summer that I saw it high up on the new releases shelf. I begged my dad to get it for me (DVD rentals were normally a family thing) and might have ended up having to pay for it myself with allowance money. I didn’t want to watch the movie with anyone else. I wanted to watch it by myself, while people were out of the house, because I was an angry fourteen-year-old ashamed of my past history of wanting to be a freaking werewolf. (Seriously, it was some otherkin territory and this is the first time I’ve really admitted it to anyone.)

Admittedly, I didn’t remember much about the movie. And I didn’t rewatch it as much as I did the first one or even the really off-the-wall but more likely to be shown on TV prequel (which came out when I was nearly done with high school). In fact I think I watched it once, deemed it satisfactory, and watched it one more time in high school as a personal marathon of the trilogy. I didn’t qualify it as bad but it wasn’t the experience I had had with Ginger Snaps. In a way that was disappointing. But I was at a point in my life where everything was disappointing so it didn’t really stick out to me.

Still, when I saw this film up for grabs I quickly called dibs. Because I love this series so much, folks. So very much.

And you know what? I’m glad I had an excuse to watch this film again because, while it isn’t as adept at metaphors as its predecessor, it is really not that bad.

The opening credits are a huge montage of Brigitte (presumably) shaving every part of her body. But we are never shown her shaving her vulva even though that’s the only part that gets called out in later dialogue for being bald. The shaving eventually gives way to shots of presumably Brigitte cutting herself. The shots are accompanied by snippets of dialogue from the previous film and honestly the most amazing thing about this credits sequence is that‘HOLY SHIT TATIANA MASLANY IS IN THIS?’ Because Orphan Black’s amazing star is indeed in this as a creepy child that is blonder than a Daenerys Targaryen cosplayer.

After sitting through those credits we wind up in a library (Note: Your local library probably has tons of information on werewolves. Mine did) where Brigitte is sitting alone reading a book titled ‘BLOODLETTING.’ A library guy comes up and says she must be attracted to him. He retracts his joke when Brigitte scowls at him. I am so glad to see that this movie continues the first movie’s trend of the main female characters not giving a fuck what men think of them. And this goes on through B (I’m using her nickname because I’m lazy and I can) trying to check out the book, being denied due to overdue charges, and just leaving.

We get back to her motel room (so I guess she’s been on the run since movie one? We’re gonna get to the movie’s main plot hole here soon) where B has apparently been holed up, injecting monkshood into herself, then cutting and monitoring the heal time. It looks a lot like self-harm but is in actuality B taking care of herself the best she can. And she seems to be doing alright. Well, except for the fact that the most recent cut healed in four hours and B needs another dose. As she goes for it, her sister Ginger (who very much died at the end of the first film) does a voiceover saying, “You already dosed today. It’s poison, B.”

So B is technically hurting herself. But she’s hurting herself to avoid a worse fate. It’s only holding it off, sure, because B becoming a werewolf is inevitable and only becomes more inevitable as the film goes on. But at least she’s trying. Unlike some people. (Ginger.)

Ginger also talks about a ‘he’ that is coming after B. Which would explain why she’s living in motels. Do you want an explanation about who this ‘he’ is aside from ‘he’ being another werewolf that is fully transformed? Well too bad because that is never happening. Move on from it and enjoy the rest of the movie.

Speaking of things that are never gonna happen, Library Guy shows up at B’s hotel room as she’s both having a bad reaction to the monkshood and panicking. He tries to help her but they only get as far as his car before the werewolf hunting B attacks and kills him. The car crashes and B wakes up in an institution. To be more specific The Happier Times Care Center.

The first person she sees is baby Tatiana Maslany, who is a creepy pre-teen named Ghost. The next person she meets is Dr. Alice, a recovered addict herself who now seeks to help young women dealing with their own issues. We get a tour of the building, which used to be a TB ward and now only has one open wing. The others are abandoned because this is a horror movie and we’re going to need some spooky places for the end of the second act.

Dr. Alice also explains that the HTCC does double duty as a rehab center and a place for chronic care patients because “girls on drugs don’t go over well in private funding circles.” This is why Ghost is there. Supposedly. Because her grandmother caught on fire and is now bedridden and being cared for. Totally the only reason Ghost is there.

B has trouble adjusting. She tries running but doesn’t make it. She is up front about her ‘worst case scenario’ in her first group session and the only note taken about her is ‘LESBIAN?’ B even tries reasoning with Dr. Alice in a one-on-one. Alice says they can help, that she’s been where B is, that she gets it. Everyone feels alone. Lots of people turn to substance abuse. Even though Alice doesn’t understand why B is injecting herself with literal poison (they ran bloodwork), she wants to help. And B wants to accept that help. She does.

“If I was messed up in the way you think I am, I would really appreciate someone like you helping me.”

But then she says if they keep her here people will die and she gets locked in her room. This is around the time that Ghost starts attaching herself to B, listening at her door, whispering creepy things. Ghost has a hidden stash of horror comics in her grandma’s room. And honestly, every time Ghost goes into the room, her grandma tries super hard to wiggle her fingers just enough to hit the nurse call button.

The horror comic that Ghost grabs is one dealing with werewolves. And also a mistress who controls hell hounds. She reads these to her grandmother who seems uncomfortable even for someone covered in burns.

The film’s time in the ward is both mundane and not. Even though we don’t learn the names of all the girls there, we do learn some things. We learn Beth Ann is a bitch. We learn that one girl writes a lot and is possibly making up stories of childhood abuse. Another girl is also a bitch. It’s a wide variety of characters, clearly. Okay it’s not, but every bitchy girl is actually a different level and flavor of bitchy. And there are distinct relationships shown between them that carry between scenes. For example, there’s a girl who specifically bullies Writer Girl. They have more back and forth with each other than any of the other characters, even if their dialogue is limited. And you see some of the same girls who get no lines sitting with each other in multiple scenes. Even though we don’t get to focus on the other girls who are living there, they don’t feel completely like cardboard background characters. That’s nice.

Who we do focus on is Tyler, a male orderly who seems to be one of the few people willing to interact with Ghost and who also trades drugs for sexual favors. He manages to get drugs for the girls (because they seem to be kept there on site for…reasons? Do rehab facilities often just keep the drugs that people have on them when they’re admitted?) and goes into their rooms at night. When he tries this on B she refuses, even though her transformation is deepening. She gets ear points. She cuts them off. Because if you can’t solve a problem one way, you deal with it in another.

After getting shut down, Tyler finds Ghost drawing super violent images and saying creepy things. Ghost speaks in third-person narrative, possibly things she picked up from her comics, possibly things she made up. They have a brief squabble over whether the phrase is ‘moral terror’ (as Ghost insists) or ‘mortal terror’ (Tyler’s argument and also the correct choice). Then they feed Ghost’s dog, Rocky.

Meanwhile, over in B’s room, Ginger is making more frequent haunting stops to explain what’s happening. That B is gonna get massively horny and then want to kill things. That she can’t stop what’s happening to her. That the guy-wolf is gonna find her. Ginger is a very supportive haunt.

While at HTCC, B hits bottom. She goes from monitoring her cuts (which she administers with glass from a stolen picture frame) and cutting off the tips of her ears to nearly slashing her throat. There’s a shot where she holds the glass up and starts pressing it in but in the end she just can’t do it. Luckily Ghost shows up and says she can get her her monkshood. This plan is ruined by Tyler, who B does try to flirt with and give into. Unfortunately, he is a massive dick and decides that if this isn’t on his terms, it’s a no go and so winds up spilling the stolen dosage all over the bathroom floor. B licks it up. It does nothing.

This movie has a lot of references to B killing herself, actually. Ginger mentioned their suicide games in the motel, saying B ‘always chickened out.’ B is accused of having every girl in group thinking she ‘really sucks at suicide’ and then we have her trying it later on. It’s a carryover from the first film, where Ginger and B had a suicide pact that B was becoming less and less attached to. B may be depressed, and she may hate what she’s becoming, and she may be intentionally hurting herself, but she doesn’t want to die. She really, really wants to live but she wants to live as someone who isn’t a monster. As long as she’s human, she can hold onto hope that she can beat the werewolf back and stay herself, and at this point in the film she hasn’t quite decided if becoming a werewolf is a fate worse than death or just an equal one. It’s a greyer area, wanting to live alongside and numb the pain rather than end it. B’s depression is treated, perhaps because it is a literal monster and not just a figurative one, as not something to be romanticized. This isn’t a young woman shown reading The Bell Jar and cultivating a look based off of it. It’s someone struggling to keep being the person they want to be. It’s awful. It hurts other people. It hurts her. But it doesn’t mean she’s going to kill herself to make it stop.

Eventually, we need to leave the hospital. First, there needs to be an issue between Ghost and B. Ghost’s dog, Rocky, gets killed and she gives the head to B while reciting a poem about the dog’s playful nature. Ghost suddenly doesn’t like B anymore but after B explains that it was totes the he-wolf, they settle an escape plan. Which means we get to see all the abandoned wings of the HTCC! Did you think a low budget horror movie was just going to forget they set those up?

We spend more time down there than we need to. Tyler is having sex with another patient in return for something snort-able and then heads off. The girl gets high, runs into B, and then gets mauled by the werewolf after a few moments of being really, really blissful. The shots of her being killed are some of the more graphic in the film. Which is to say it’s really the only murder we see but there still isn’t a ton to see. Beth Ann gets killed standing up, pressed into that construction plastic with blood slowly making it harder to see through. It’s understated but effective.

Then Ghost shows back up (because she just comes and goes when it’s convenient for both her and the writers) and her and B get into a fight with the creature. B breaks her leg, snaps it back into place like a badass, gets bit but the wolf never goes for the kill. Eventually she and Ghost set it on fire (because crematorium), steal a car, and head out. They wind up at Ghost’s old house because B needs a needle and to hole up for the foreseeable future.

We start to focus in on Ghost now. We learn she can drive a car, operate a generator, and build booby-trapped scarecrows that will explode if they are touched. You know, girl stuff.

She also took care of her grandma after she caught on fire. Apparently from falling asleep with a cigarette. And she likes to cut up comics and make new ones that are full of improvements. She says she ‘assesses weaknesses’ of characters (by which she also means the people around her) and takes them away. One example is of a burned grandma (who Ghost only refers to as Barbara) who has had her nerve endings removed ‘so she can’t feel pain.’ Another is a sexy Brigitte with bare breasts and a wolf head. It’s basically what B would be if she had transformed like Ginger did in the first movie, i.e. giving in and getting all the boys. But this scene is mostly to show more of Ghost’s obsession with fictional worlds.

B and Ghost engage in several talks about sisters. Ghost always wanted one and is thrilled to have B around and is so jealous that B has a sister. B sort of ruins the moment by explaining that Ginger isn’t around anymore, but in their second chat on the subject B reveals that she misses Ginger all the time. Considering Ginger is still harassing B from beyond the grave and their conversations are getting progressively more heated, we can surmise that B misses who Ginger was before she got wolfified.

The other important thing to grab from this conversation is that when Ghost tries to deduce why the he-wolf didn’t kill B, B tells her very plainly that it doesn’t want to kill her; it wants to mate with her. Ghost is sort of stunned because, well, this had never occurred to her as a possibility. Apparently there was no sexual assault in Ghost’s comics because she seems to genuinely not be able to wrap her head around this idea. For about a second. This will be important later because holy shit this film has a lot of foreshadowing about Ghost and it’s all going to pay off.

Grandma’s house is woefully free of needles. B improvises with eye drops (because membranes are thin and I don’t know if this is a true or they just bullshitted really well) but she’s out of monkshood. So they call Tyler, who will be joining us at the house for the next length of time.

Tyler showing up makes Ghost aggravated. He says Ghost took care of her grandma for a length of time after the fire (43 days, a number Ghost just has memorized) and is staying at the hospital too. He helps B inject her monkshood, but the reaction is terrible. Since he isn’t allowed to take her to the hospital, he at least sets her up in a bed somewhere. There’s no funny business, just Tyler actually being a good guy and trying to get B and/or Ghost to come back to HTCC. He takes care of B and is gentle to Ghost. But in a…in a really predatory way. Possibly.

And we’re led to believe that he is a predator. B wakes up and finds Ghost, in a tank top and shorts which is a far cry from the turtlenecks, long sleeves, and pants we’ve seen her in the whole film. She cries, has a hand between her legs, and says, “We shouldn’t have brought him here.”

B confronts Tyler, who is nursing a face wound. He starts saying that he doesn’t think Ghost understands the difference between reality and fiction and B, full of rage, ends up sending him outside to ‘help with the generator.’ Tyler is promptly eaten by the he-wolf. Ghost watches from her room but then plays dumb when B goes back up to check on her.

Because, seriously, Ghost is literally the worst.

Next in our game of guest stars is Dr. Alice (Tyler called her before he got ate) who shows up between a deer setting off the bombed scarecrow and the final showdown (which B and Ghost were prepping for, complete with a pit of spikes!). While Alice freaks out at Ghost, going off about how she was doing so well in her treatment and that she needs to stop talking about monsters and come back and seriously she’s really troubled and needs to get this ‘fantasy vs reality’ issue under control.

And this very important bit of info is barely audible. It’s not the focus. Like, you’d think that if we were going to reveal that Ghost was also undergoing treatment at HTCC it would be done in a way that was clearer than dialogue we happen to be able to kind of make out while following B through the house. Though B is finding an important thing: an anti-smoking sign that means Grandma Barbara didn’t light herself on fire from a cigarette.

B puts it together and angrily confronts Ghost about this. About how she must have set her Grandma (who was by all accounts a fine upstanding citizen except for what Ghost said about living with her) on fire and also lied about Tyler. Ghost confesses by way of shouting, “He was going to take you away from me!” Dr. Alice is not amused by this malarkey and tries leaving but the he wolf is still out there so…I guess everyone has to stay inside.

Alice and Ghost hide upstairs and the final battle happens. B waits at the kitchen table and stabs man-wolf, which goes back and forth between her and trying to get at Ghost and Alice. Eventually it attacks B, leaps over the well-constructed spike pit (good use of cellar door) and B bludgeons it to death with a curling stone because this movie was made by Canadians.

Dr. Alice comes down to investigate, shotgun in hand, and Ghost kills her with a hammer because the cat’s out of the evil bag now so she might as well.

B, still alive, crawls up the stairs. She’s super wolfed out now (Ginger mentioned early on that her proximity to the male wolf could possibly speed up the process) and begging for death. B’s finally made her choice about if being dead or a werewolf is worse. This should be a nice moment where B gets to die holding onto her humanity. It should be. It’s not. Ghost shoves B down into the basement and locks her in there. Because she is The Worst.

We then skip ahead to maybe a few days? A week? However long it takes for missing persons in Canada to be reported?

Ghost has set out dinner and hung up a ‘Welcome Home Barbara’ sign and is upstairs doing her comics. She voiceovers more narration, talking about a mistress and her hell hound who does her bidding for her ‘reign of moral terror’ and dispatches ‘her mistress’ enemies….of which there were many.’ The doorbell rings, and Ghost goes to presumably unleash a fully transformed B. The last shot is an artistic representation of Ghost and her new pet.

I guess they had to top the unhappy ending of the first movie somehow.

Thoughts

— Can I say how well they foreshadowed Ghost being terrible? From the really subtle shots of her grandma reaching for the call button to her obsession with horror to even little phrases that evolve and repeat as the film goes on. There are even a few that seem to be directed at B but could actually be Ghost referring to herself. And they also have her absorbing things around her (“I’m very impressionable” is the reason she’s not allowed to consume horror media). Ghost’s narrations and their details change based on new information she gets. For example, she never plays the sexual abuse card until B mentions that this is on the list of terrible things that can happen to people (though Ghost knows Tyler visits patients’ rooms at night, she doesn’t seem to really know what he does). Ghost also is less interested in werewolves until she starts eavesdropping on conversations related to B freaking out about becoming one. Also, just how she reacts to things isn’t normal. Sure, Beth Ann bullied Ghost and threw coins at her head but Ghost’s reaction to Beth Ann’s mauled corpse is to very calmly ‘pay the ferry man’ and put coins over Beth Ann’s eyes. Ghost gets excited about death and destruction or she remains cool about it. Neither of these are appropriate reactions for a pre-teen girl.

— The overarching metaphor for this film isn’t quite as strong as the first one. WhereasGinger Snaps was about puberty and sisters growing apart, this movie seemed like it tried for an addiction and recovery metaphor. It has strong moments, like making B’s self-treatment easy to mistake as drug abuse. More importantly, the metaphor is not simply ‘lycanthropy = addiction.’ It’s trying to say that you can’t just shove help down someone’s throat and expect it to work. You need to listen. Like B says, were she actually dealing with substance abuse, Alice would be a great help. But that’s not the issue.

The flip side of that is people like Ghost, who abuse the help they are offered, are not good. Ghost makes up abuse claims about multiple people but that’s not a real problem. Ghost does have problems, legitimate ones, but she’d rather play the victim and/or hero in her made up stories than admit to her real issues. Which is, you know, killing people.

It all sort of falls apart at the end with the push for a creepy child ending but it’s good. And I think it’s a totally reasonable follow up to the high school metaphor since a defining thing people in their early 20s go through is being told everything they should do with their life rather than getting assistance doing the things they might actually want to do.

— I watched this movie with a friend and she pointed out that the men in these movies, while often suffering consequences and getting fucked up by werewolves, are presented as grey area douchebags. In the first movie we had the pot dealer who slept with high school virgins and then dumped them but who also was a major help to B and came up with the monkshood cure. In this film we have Tyler, who is a jerk and coerces women to have sex with him but who tries to help B out and who didn’t rape Ghost (though he’s still a sexual predator because of how he treats patients and I’m not sorry he died). The women are often the same way. Dr. Alice is strict with her patients but she will stick her neck out to help them. Beth Ann is presented as a total bitch but her death is still framed as horrible and undeserved. You aren’t supposed to take joy in it like Ghost does.

— WHO WAS THE HE-WOLF? I thought it was the pot dealer from the first film but Ginger killed him before he could turn. And the only other guy we saw contract lycanthropy in that film got cured. So who is this wolf? Where did it come from? How did it find B? Do people really transform faster if they are near another werewolf? I NEED ANSWERS ABOUT THIS.

— I also need answers about who is ringing the doorbell at the end. Are they really bringing Barbara home? Or is that the police coming to investigate the missing people? I can’t really see Ghost controlling B for very long, even if one of B’s main characteristics is attaching herself to other women. (Seriously, the closer she gets to and more protective she becomes of Ghost, the less Ginger shows up.)

— There’s a weird hallucination scene where the group session therapist tells all the girls to masturbate (they all do and it’s about a minute of ladies writhing about and moaning in sweat pants) and when B’s about to climax her hand turns into a claw. There’s that and all the references to wanting sex leading to wanting to murder people. I’m not sure what the writers of this film were trying to say about female sexuality, but it doesn’t seem like they were heading in a very good direction? B never does have sex, BTW. Even when she’s consenting to Tyler she sends him away because, well, she’ll kill him. And the he-wolf never succeeds in mating with her. I feel like this movie talks about sexuality a lot because sexuality was a key part of the first film. But instead of growing off of that and forming new ideas it just sort of kept repeating the word sex over and over again.

— Someone seriously killed a werewolf with a curling stone. I love you, Canada. I love you so much. And if that doesn’t make you want to watch this film, I don’t know if I can be your friend.

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