The Best Horror Movie of 2000: Ginger Snaps

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The Best Horror Movie of 2000: Ginger Snaps

This post is part of Paste’s Century of Terror project, a countdown of the 100 best horror films of the last 100 years, culminating on Halloween. You can see the full list in the master document, which will collect each year’s individual film entry as it is posted.

The Year

The volume of horror fare isn’t quite through the roof here, but 2000 can lay claim to some decent variety and a few imaginative films. More foundations are being laid for the “J-horror” craze that would sweep into Hollywood following The Ring in 2002, while the progeny of Scream are still kicking into the new decade with the likes of Final Destination, and, well … Scream 3, but let’s not spend much time discussing that.

More distinctive is the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, a riddle of a film that accurately conveys the confused reality of the book and the highly unreliable state of its narrator. Christian Bale was perfectly cast as the impeccably coiffed Patrick Bateman, a symbol of corporate soullessness who puts on airs to remain undetected as a pure psychopath prowling the waters of New York City high society in the late ’80s. The joke, of course, is that ultimately he’s trying harder than he really needs to—the world occupied by Batemen is so self-obsessed and concerned with surface level BS that even when he’s attempting to confess, no one bothers to listen or act on the obvious warning signs he’s throwing up. His world is so fundamentally unconcerned and unempathetic that the boundaries between sociopathy and “regular” human behavior are entirely blurred.

Out of Japan, we have Ju-on: The Curse, which would prove to be deeply influential upon the mold of J-horror ghost stories that would proliferate throughout the 2000s, such as the better known Ju-on: The Grudge in 2002, remade in the American market in 2004. Even more entertaining is Japan’s Battle Royale, a delightfully twisted tale of an entire middle school class that is shipped off to an island and forced to fight to the death by their totalitarian government. If you think that sounds similar to The Hunger Games, you’re by no means alone—so many on the web made that point that author Suzanne Collins has felt the need to repeatedly claim she was unaware of Battle Royale when developing her very similar series. Regardless, the adaptation is bloody fun, avoiding the depth of focus on teen romance/YA fiction cliches seen in The Hunger Games to instead revolve around kinetic action and explosive, semi-comical violence. In the last few years, the term was even lifted to describe the popular videogame genre that contains the likes of PUBG and Fortnite.

Elsewhere, the year 2000 graces us with Willem Dafoe’s powerhouse performance as a real-life vampire on the set of Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire, while Tarsem Singh’s The Cell proved to be one of the most purely imaginative fantasy horror films of the decade, sending psychologist Jennifer Lopez into the unconscious mind of a serial killer to contend with his warped self-projection in a beautiful, metaphysical battle of wills. Visually audacious but often self-congratulatory, it still stands out as one of the year’s most daring offerings.

2000 Honorable Mentions: American Psycho, Battle Royale, Shadow of the Vampire, The Cell, Pitch Black, Ju-on, The Gift, Final Destination, Scream 3, What Lies Beneath

The Film: Ginger Snaps
Director: John Fawcett

The trope of “lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty” is not exactly an uncommon one, and has been played for both laughs (Teen Wolf) and serious drama (When Animals Dream) on different occasions, but nowhere do the worlds of high school predation and throat-ripping werewolf savagery come together as satisfyingly as in Ginger Snaps. It works as funny high school satire; it works as a legitimate werewolf horror film; it works as family dramedy—the film just works, making it one of the few indispensable modern werewolf movies, other than the likes of Dog Soldiers.

The formula of Ginger Snaps is a bit like a precursor to the high school cattiness of Mean Girls, except deeply rooted in the ’90s grunge rebellion of Daria. Its central duo are sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), twins united in their nihilistic, gothic worldview and too-cool-for-school, half-serious misanthropy. All their lives, the two have looked out for one another as a duo, defining themselves in an “us against the world” style of pact—until, that is, Ginger begins her first period. As one sister begins to mature much faster than the other, Ginger is beguiled by the powers of popularity and the wolfish desires bubbling up within her, while Brigitte grapples with the obvious fear of being left behind as Ginger explores a brave new world. The relationship themes are simple, easy to grasp and universal, while the feminist overtones raise questions related to sexual independence, social acceptance and friendships between young women.

Really, it’s the performances of Perkins and Isabelle who lend truth to the material, bringing to life a pair of jaded outcasts who have never realized that they depend on one another’s support to an unhealthy degree. Ginger is the bully; the alpha; the idea person and instigator of their plans. Brigitte is the pushover; the enabler; the “runt” who must rise up and overcome if she wants to save her sister’s soul. For two young women who have always defined themselves in relation to one another, there’s a lot at stake—especially with Mom poking around their business, threatening to reveal the secret of what Ginger is becoming.

Nor does Ginger Snaps skimp on the full-on werewolf carnage. Its prosthetics provide subtly evolving “wolfy” qualities for Isabelle’s face throughout, while the final transformation echoes the best of David Cronenberg, albeit on a budget. Still, the film isn’t afraid to be funny in one moment, and spill blood with a straight face in the next—it’s a rare combination of humor and legitimate horror chops, with pathos for both its leads. If you’re a werewolf fan and haven’t managed to see it, then you’re missing out on one of the sub-genre’s most effective overall presentations.

In the years since Ginger Snaps, the status of the film has risen, with it now regularly appearing on “best of” lists for the decade. Isabelle went on to become one of the era’s most prolific scream queens, with appearances in the likes of 2002’s Carrie or Freddy vs. Jason, and starring roles in well-liked indie horrors such as American Mary. Ginger Snaps also received two sequels of its own, reuniting Isabelle and Perkins, but it’s the initial go-round that stands out for its simplicity and rock-solid execution.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.

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