Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed Review
The original Ginger Snaps was a film I discovered last Halloween on the Discovery Channel of all places. I found it instantly likeable due to its grungy atmosphere, a refusal to go the way of the cliché, and not least the superb chemistry between its two leads, Katharine Isabelle as the title character, Ginger, and Emily Perkins as her younger sister, Brigitte. While the film wasn't perfect, it was ambitious and well-made, and in my opinion did not require a sequel. As a result, the news that not one but two sequels were being commissioned gave me some cause for concern. The other of these two sequels, Ginger Snaps Back, is in fact set 200 years in the past and uses the same cast and concept in a different situation. Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, however, continues the story where the original film left off.
Brigitte is now infected with the same virus that caused her now-dead sister to turn into a werewolf, and has gone on the run. She slows the transformation process by injecting herself with Monkshood, but she knows that this is only a temporary antedote. She is pursued by another werewolf who has decided he wants to mate with her ("Don't try too hard to visualize that"), and one night has an extremely narrow escape. She wakes up in a drug rehab clinic, and unsurprisingly the staff aren't too keen on the idea of her shooting up on this strange substance. Brigitte sets about trying to escape, aided by an extremely irritating comic-book addicted young orphan named Ghost (Tatiana Maslany).
The crew on this sequel seems to be, for the most part, different from the one that created the original. Crucially, writer Karen Walton is missing and director John Fawcett, who did a commendable job creating a decent atmosphere in the original, is here consigned to executive producer and second unit director duties. The man helming the sequel is Brett Sullivan, who served as editor on the original. Otherwise, a completely different crew appears to have put Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed together. It shows. While I would be loath to say that the changes are entirely for the worst, the overall effect is different and not one that is completely satisfactory.
The most important element of the original, the interplay between Ginger and Brigitte, is more or less completely missing from this sequel. Clearly a neccessity (the way Ginger Snaps ended didn't give them much choice!), but an unfortunate one nonetheless. Ginger appears from time to time as an apparition, taunting or advising Brigitte, but the two get more or less no opportunity to interact, and as a result these encounters come off as forced and a rather ham-handed way of fitting Katharine Isabelle into the film. Poor Isabelle, who is an undeniably talented actor, gets to do little more than smirk and spout exposition in her, say, three minutes of screen-time.
With Isabelle more or less out of the picture, the duty of carrying the film falls squarely on the shoulders of Emily Perkins. She pulls it off admirably. For the most part, this is a one-woman show, and Perkins has a quirky charisma that complements her rather unusual appearance. She does a great job of conveying fear and paranoia, and pulls of her changing personality extremely well. Tatiana Maslany, in the role of Ghost, is competent, but is unfortunately playing an extremely irritating part: that's not her fault, it's down to the way the character is written. Katharine Isabelle, with her three minutes of screen-time, is not given enough of an opportunity to flex her acting muscles, and indeed plays the whole thing with a complete lack of emotion. Oh well, at least she made a buck or two, and it looks like she will be featured more prominently in the other "sequel". The rest of the cast are perfectly competent but not particularly outstanding.
Megan Martin's screenplay comes across as clumsy and meandering. It starts promisingly enough, but the number of locations are somewhat limited (a budgetary constraint, probably), and beyond the asylum, in which Bridgitte spends the first half of the film, there doesn't seem to be much scope for the plot. There is some interesting material inside the asylum, and Bridgitte's isolation and paranoia are genuinely palpable, but I wish Martin had chosen to expand on the personalities of the other inmates. All we really get are a few throwaway gags - one that made me smile was a girl (Pascale Hutton) who takes anal sex from one of the orderlies (Eric Johnson) in exchange for drugs - and not much more. Especially in the second half of the film, Martin seems to have no idea what to do with the story, and as a result the characters more or less sit around and wait for the climax. Indeed, for the most part, the acting talent is streets ahead of the material they are performing.
There's also the slight issue of metaphor. In the first film, the metaphor of turning into a wolf at full moon equating to a woman having her period was handled well and in an interesting way. Here, I lost all respect for the writer's subtlety when a scene emerged which essentially consisted of a rehab counselor guiding a room full of girls through the process of masturbation. Don't get me wrong, I like rooms full of girls masturbating as much as the next person, but it felt completely out of place and farcical in what appeared to be a relatively serious movie. There, if that hasn't got you interested in this film I don't know what will.
Apart from Perkins' performance, it is Sullivan's directing that prevents the film from being a failure. The grungy feel of the original with its orange suburban glow is gone, and in its place is a very cold, austere-looking film, which suits Brigitte's isolation well. Tension is built up reasonably well on more than a couple of occasions, but it's the cold colour palette that does it for me.
Overall, therefore, the film is a combination of enjoyable elements and moments of tedium. I still don't think Ginger Snaps was a film that needed a sequel, but the result is reasonably serviceable. I just wish they'd hired a better writer, because other than the poor script, more or less everything seems to have been in place to make Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed as good as its parent.
One more thing: the ending is so delightfully twisted that, even although it wasn't particularly well set-up, it made me grin.
The film is presented anamorphically in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (the original theatrical ratio is pretty close, at 1.85:1). The transfer is overall extremely strong, with impecable sharpness and colour levels (lots of cold hues here), and very little edge enhancement, but it is let down by some overly strong noise reduction, resulting in some moderate artefacting. Also, as was the case with May, another Lions Gate release, the transfer periodically switches into interlaced mode, lessening the level of detail and creating some annoying motion jitters on progressive scan equipment. On most standard TVs, however, the image will probably look just fine.
The only audio track present besides the commentary is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, although I believe the Canadian release also includes French 5.1. Despite the lower than normal bit rate of 384 Kbps, the track is incredibly strong. The rears are used quite imaginately for the score, and the bass is at times very powerful.
Just a static menu that does its job and is quite well-designed. No complaints here.
I quite like the front cover artwork, but unfortunately the back cover is bland and unimaginative. There is no chapter listing: only a catalogue for other Lions Gate releases.
The US DVD of the first Ginger Snaps was a bare-bones affair (with a pan & scan transfer, no less), but the Canadian version was in fact quite loaded when it came to bonus material. This DVD has a reasonable set of features, but unfortunately it doesn't quite cut it in terms of quality. I know they can't all be like the 3-disc Panic Room, but still, I was hoping for a little more.
Commentary - Accessed via the setup menu, this commentary features director Brett Sullivan, executive producer/second unit director/director of the original Ginger Snaps John Fawcett, executive producer Noah Segal and producer Paula Devonshire. There is some reasonably interesting information here, but way too much back-patting. Hardly a minute goes by without one of the speakers congratulating at least someone on "a really great job".
Deleted scenes - Eight deleted scenes are included, with (undocumented) optional commentary by director Brett Sullivan (use the audio button on your remote to select it). None of them really add anything at all to the film. For the most part, they simply expand on the material that takes place inside the clinic, throwing in some additional exchanges, but nothing particularly worthwhile.
Storyboards - Various storyboards are shown, followed by a split-screen storyboard to final film comparison, and some video footage of a wall covered with storyboards.
Brigitte's journal - Not as cool as it sounds, this is really nothing more than a 3-page reproduction of the journal, featuring a written description of Monkshood, a couple of photos and a copy of the log Brigitte keeps of how long her scars take to heal.
Ghost's comic book art - Again, misleading. This is just a 3-page reproduction of the werewolf comic book Ghost reads.
Bonus trailers (accessed via the Lions Gate logo on the main menu) are also included for House of 1000 Corpses, Serial Killing 101 and Cabin Fever, but none for the Ginger Snaps films.
Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed may not live up to the original film, but it doesn't do it too much of a disservice and is reasonably enjoyable provided you can overlook the weak screenwriting. The audio-visual presentation is very good, but the extras are a little on the weak side. Overall, I would recommend this release if you enjoyed the first Ginger Snaps.