Written by: Karen Walton (characters), Megan Martin
Directed by: Brett Sullivan
Starring: Emily Perkins, Tatiana Maslany, and Katharine Isabelle
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"We can't fight what's in us, B."
The story behind Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed is an old, familiar one: scrappy little indie horror flick is released to critical acclaim. Scrappy little indie horror flick goes on to become a cult classic. Scrappy little indie horror flick suddenly looks like an opportunity to turn a profit with an unnecessary sequel. But the good news is that this story has a pretty happy ending, as Unleashed is a very respectable sequel even despite a few missteps and its expendability. After Ginger Snapsóa movie so perfect and self-containedówhat more was left to say, really?
Naturally, the sequel supposes that Brigitte (Emily Perkins), the surviving Fitzgerald sister from the previous film, has contracted Gingerís (Katharine Isabelle) lycanthropy. Still haunted by visions of her older, she lives in seclusion and has taken to fending off the disease with her homemade wolfs bane concoction. Her cure is barely working, though, and an ill-fated encounter with a library clerk (Brendan Fletcher) lands her in a detox clinic, where the doctors assume sheís just another junky. With the help of a fellow patient Ghost (Tatiana Maslany), she conspires to escape before she wreaks havoc on the place.
As a sequel, Ginger Snaps II operates rather elliptically: thereís no mention of the Fitzgerald matriarch, and Brigitte is clumsily forced to explain how she injected herself with her sisterís blood out of sympathy. And for a reason that isnít explained until towards the end, thereís a male werewolf pursuing her throughout the movie, which makes for an out-of-nowhere embellishment to the mythos on the surface. Getting past this (and, again, getting over the movieís existence in the first place) reveals a film thatís still aiming to be thoughtful and deferential to its predecessor.
Confining Brigitte in a clinic gives of a Fly II vibe (by way of Girl, Interruptedówhat a combo), which isnít exactly flattering. However, where that follow-up sold out the originalís existential crises to revel in gore, this one doesnítóin fact, itís actually less gory than the first movie, with much of the visceral horror centered on Brigitteís protracted, agonizing transformation as she follows in her sisterís footóer, paw-steps. As tempting as it must have been, director Brett Sullivan and screenwriter Megan Martin resist the urge to embrace total schlock and just make a big dumb, movie with a werewolf tearing through a rehab clinic full of vulnerable girls. It has its violent outbursts, but each is in service of the story, including an aside involving an especially bitchy clinic residentís gruesome comeuppance.
To the filmmakers' further credit, they attempt to recapture what made the original film so compelling by exploring the developing bond between Brigitte and Ghost without simply resorting to recreating the dynamic between the Fitzgerald sisters. Instead, the younger Fitzgerald is more like the older sister this time, and Perkinsís even more weathered and cynical turn proves that she could have shouldered the franchise in spite of the title (Brigitte Snaps isnít as snappy, you see). Sheís very much the same character as she was four years earlier, only edgier and with even less time for your shit. On the other hand, Ghost is a more wide-eyed eccentric whoís definitely kooky enough to hang with Brigitte, yet still a little bit innocent. Maslany would have been about eighteen at the time of feeling but is playing younger (and convincingly soóitís no wonder the forces behind Ginger Snaps tapped her for Orphan Black nearly a decade later), so Ghost is the oddball out in a group of older, weary girls at the clinic.
While the shift from puberty allegory to addiction parable doesnít quite work out, itís interesting how the film cleverly hides its real story. Once Brigitte and Ghost manage to escape the clinic, you can feel the film slowly moving its focus to the latter; introduced as a weird kid who loves monster comics, sheís hiding some trauma and psychosis beneath her peculiar veneer. Some of the climactic twists and turns take Ginger Snaps II into outlandish territory (even for this series), so much so that itís less an insightful exploration of adolescence and more a tall tale like the ones Ghost enjoys so much.
Ultimately, Unleashed is a lesser film across the board: itís not quite as affecting, darkly humorous, or perceptive as its predecessor, and you canít help but address the werewolf in the room (or not in the room, as it were): with Ginger having perished in the last film, Isabelle is only around as a spectral figment of her sisterís imagination here, a concept that strengthens the connection between this franchise and American Werewolf in London but feels a little forced and heavy-handed. Given my fondness for Isabelle, itís hard to believe that the film actually seems to improve a bit once Brigitte stops having these visions, but it allows it to move on and do its own thing with the living characters. Of course, Isabelle would return in a more conventional capacity (sort of) for Ginger Snaps Back, a bizarre prequel that continued to show that the powers-that-be werenít just interested in making a quick buck off of the originalís reputation. Sometimes these things work out okay, even when they have enormous shoes to fill. Buy it!
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