**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Katharine Isabelle, Emily Perkins, JR Bourne, Tom McCamus
screenplay by Christina Ray and Stephen Massicotte
directed by Grant Harvey
by Walter Chaw Ravenous but not funny, the clumsily-titled Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning takes the venerable Canadian she-wolf franchise and, in Canuck fashion, de-sexualizes it by suggesting that the appearance of two relatively nubile lasses at an isolated fort populated entirely by men rouses no passions beyond a metaphorical anxiety of invasion from without. The females in horror films tend to be the consumptive dank underground--in slashers specifically, they're the avatar for teen-boy fantasies of revenge. But in Ginger Snaps Back, they're neither avatar nor holy object, really, just catalysts for the interpersonal dramas of male settlers. The implications are many, most strident among them the unavoidable one that in Canadian cinema, sex is either perfunctory, ugly, forced, or involves a dead person. We've come a long way from the budding sexuality of the first Ginger Snaps film--all the way to an almost complete evasion of both the Orientalism in a medium-hot near-tryst wet dream with a Native American warrior and subsumed homosexual buddy lust. This despite the menstrual implications so cannily established by the franchise.
Ginger Snaps Back is possibly aping the 16th-century disappearance of the American Roanoke colony as well: the idea that an isolated group of pilgrims, waiting for a delayed and much-needed shipment of supplies, mysteriously vanished. It is, of course, no mystery in this case, as there's lycanthropy in the clear blue Molson air--wolf-men, eh? The hosers. Enter Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and her moony little sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins), transported back in time with no continuity issues in regards to the previous films and none the worse for the transplant. Ginger Snaps Back opens with the two of them wandering together in the wilderness and coming across a wise old Native American woman equipped with a dire portent before Brigitte gets herself caught in a wolf-trap, snap snap. Not subtle to start with, the film gets thicker once dour, enigmatic Hunter (Nathaniel Arcand) takes our oestrous-pair into the log arms of frontier haven Fort Bailey, where the trio encounters the usual suspects and, eventually, a dog-boy--in addition to the kind of werewolf special effects that can't withstand an intense gaze.
Ginger is infected, but what is the symbolic nature of her infection if it isn't puberty? She and Brigitte have to hide Ginger's disease-state from the men of Fort Bailey, lest they put her to sleep, and though the ground is fertile to plant a few seeds of menstrual-horror or vagina dentata intrigue, it seems like only Ginger's continued survival is at stake in the whole mess. Though it's tempting to read a lot into Ginger Snaps Back (its relationship to the first film is essentially the same as the relationship of Back to the Future Part III to the original in that series), there's no underneath to it: it's a period spam-in-a-cabin flick that, as is typical for this kind of thing, features a doom trigger that eventually proves itself to be a purveyor of the same. If the picture proves anything, it's that while Ginger and co. are immune to the sexual tides that drive the proceedings, the filmmakers themselves are not. Despite its buckets of blood and occasionally effective gore, Ginger Snaps Back is a portrait of restraint, a movie that's almost fastidiously chaste in the face of a premise heavy with the stink of concupiscence. And you can't be this prissy without being at least aware of the unpleasantness lurking under the covers.
Seville's Canadian DVD release of Ginger Snaps Back is technically immaculate. A 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer idealizes the mad gothic eye of cinematographer Michael Marshall while unearthing fine detail in Todd Cherniawsky's Lovecraftian production design--it's really a shame that a better movie didn't inhabit these environments. Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmixes in English and French are healthy yet not terribly imaginative in terms of atmospherics, and, constituting the chief selling point of this DVD, a third track reunites director Grant Harvey, co-writer Steve Massicotte, and editor Ken Filewych for a feature-length yakker. Harvey is homey and intimate, blaming a burp at one point on his beer, though his remarks on technique are sufficiently lucid. As Massicotte and Filewych don't reintroduce themselves subsequent to their initial greetings, it's difficult to tell them apart, although I suspect that those moments in which someone mentions "stealing" shots or discusses transitions belong to Filewych. While the track is given over to too much glad-handing of its all-Canadian cast, it's a jovial listen.
The packed platter continues with a passel of documentaries, starting with "Fun on Set" (4 mins.), a breezy if somewhat laughless outtake reel. "Costume Design" (4 mins.) is what it you'd think: an interview with costume designer Alex Kavanagh, who exhibits a dedication to research and craft that reflects well on the production. "Grant Harvey's Video Diary" (10 mins.) trails Harvey (second-unit director of Ginger Snaps and a producer on the second film) throughout pre-production, tossing in a little B-roll with Isabelle, DP Marshall, and the cool-for-a-costume-party wolf suits for good measure. "Wolfboy" (2 mins.) details the make-up test for the titular boy monster and includes the typical balderdash of little kid Stevie Mitchell enduring prosthetic applications in preparation for his plunge into a well, an action we then see as it appears in the finished product. Yawn.
Documenting the bloody death of one of the characters by blood cannon and guy in wolf suit, "Blood, Guts & Fire" (9 mins.) finds said actor in poor spirits immediately after the shoot and making a dark joke about sneezing out blood. Later, JR Bourne is outfitted with a squib that allows for an arterial spray during a throat-slitting. (The things we'll do for love.) An F/X reel for the Kill Bill guys, essentially, it's more "Fun on the Set" with fake plasma replacing flubbed lines. In "Production Designs" (5 mins.), Cherniawsky takes a tour through his exceptional sets, demonstrating where he married found locations with his own constructions in a soft-spoken way that, while not terribly informative, is at the least elucidative of his process. Key revelation: the difficulty the production had with snow. I'm now a fan of Cherniawsky's work and will keep the peepers peeled for the fellow's name in the future.
Three "Deleted Scenes" (totalling 11 mins.) are viewable with or without commentary from the same yak-track team listed above (despite that each commentary is referred to within the packaging as a "Director's Commentary"). These are basically extended versions of sequences that made it into the film; I'm not sure that anything would have been gained or lost by their inclusion, but it's nice, one way or another, to spend a bit more time in the Ginger Snaps Back universe, castrated though it is. A 2-minute slideshow of behind-the-scenes shenanigans (shrug) plus a trailer for Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed (1.85:1, non-anamorphic) round out the DVD. Originally published: December 14, 2004.