Director: Brett Sullivan
Writer: Megan Martin
Emily Perkins: Brigitte
Tatiana Maslany: "Ghost"
Katherine Isabelle: Ginger
Eric Johnson: Tyler
Janet Kidder: Alice
The Canadian horror film Ginger Snaps garnered but small box office in its original run, but terrific reviews and strong rentals prompted both a sequel and a prequel. At the end of the first movie, the titular Ginger is dead, Brigitte has been infected with lycanthropy, and the mess they've left behind means the surviving sister can no longer remain in Bailey Downs. Given the film's portrayal of suburbia, being forced to move out may be the sunny side of the situation.
It's uncertain how much time has passed since the first film. In Ginger Snaps, Brigitte was in her early teens. Emily Perkins is by this point clearly no teenager, though she could still pass for one in the typical Hollywood horror-fest. She has been on the lam, injecting herself with wolfbane in order to keep her inner beast at bay. At the same time, another werewolf stalks her, hoping to find a mate. Unfortunately, she is mistaken for an addict and thrown into a gothic rehab institution, where she cannot get access to her wolfbane, the only thing preventing her transformation and the resulting carnage.
Ginger died in the first movie, but she appears throughout this film; the sister Brigitte had to kill, quite naturally, haunts her mind. These appearances are brief. Brigitte forms a new bond with "Ghost," a cheerfully-disturbed child of indeterminate age and implausible resourcefulness. Perkins and Tatiana Maslany put in strong performances, but the relationship never feels as believable as did the sisters' in Ginger Snaps. Ghost may be a memorable character, but she's far too bizarre and scattered, both unpredictably crazy and supremely competent. Eric Johnson also does well as the obligatory perverted institute lackey, who provides the girls with drugs in return for sexual favours. We know from his first appearance that he's going to die horribly. The first film never wasted an irony or perverse pleasure when wasting its victims; when Tyler's time comes to be thrown to the wolves, I couldn't help feel cheated by the casual manner in which he is dispatched.
Apart from strong central performances, this film features some excellent visuals and a remnant of the original's twisted humour. The lines often seemed forced, however, as if the scriptwriter strained for an excuse to drop in the funny bits. Brigitte's transformation isn't handled nearly so well as her sister's was, and the little-seen lycanthrope remains rather uninspiring.
The film suffers from two major problems. Firstly, the plot lacks focus. The original had a purity of concept: lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty, and clean-cut suburbia as nightmare of hidden horrors. The sequel meanders, uncertain of where to go. Secondly, it lacks a familiar context for the weirdness. Ginger Snaps II takes a few satiric stabs at teen and contemporary issues, most notably self-injury, but it's not consistent. The familiar neighbourhood has been left far behind; this film shows us a twilight, snow-covered world of abandoned places. Unlike the first film, I had little in which to ground myself. Does the already infamous group masturbation scene, for example, really happen, or is it enhanced by Brigitte's imagination? Do institutes such as this one really exist?
Shouldn't a horror movie be consistently scarier?
In tone and mood ...Unleashed resembles a graphic novel, while the plot recalls the filler story in an old horror comic, complete with oddball twist ending. If you enjoyed Ginger Snaps and need to know what happens next, the film won't be a complete disappointment. If you're a big fan of the genre, this might be worth the price of the rental. Otherwise, we have yet another uninspired sequel hoping to bleed a more successful predecessor.
A variation of this review, by this author, appears at www.bureau42.com