It’s a rare sequel that surpasses the original. Aliens, the excellent sequel to the already-very-good 1979 science fiction hit Alien, is the classic example of the child overtaking the parent. Ginger Snaps Unleashed, the second film in the Canadian girl-werewolf trilogy, doesn’t quite make the cut for that list, but it’s pretty close to being on par with its predecessor.
But unlike, say, Aliens, which took the premise and trappings of the original film and amplified them, Ginger Snaps Unleashed sets out on its own, succeeding on largely different territory than the original.
While the first film was a metaphor for puberty and emergent sexuality, the sequel leaves metaphor behind to create a dark fairy tale.
It’s such a dark story that it inverts even the darkest fairy tales. In those, evil is evil, good is good, and while there may be a lot of blood along the way, good triumphs in the end. In Unleashed, Little Red Riding Hood is a more serious, more dangerous threat than the Big Bad Wolf.
As Unleashed opens, we find Brigette (Emily Perkins), the sole survivor of the first film, studying up on the science of blood and infectious disease. In the months since the first film ended with Brigette infecting herself with her sister Ginger’s werewolf-tainted blood, Brigette has been on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of both the wolf that wants to mate with her and the wolf that’s emerging from inside her.
Her transformation is coming faster and faster, but she’s been able to keep it at bay by regularly injecting herself with monk’s hood, the plant extract that failed to save Ginger in the first film.
After the wolf kills a boy she is with, Brigette is brought to a youth treatment center where the monk’s hood and track marks get her mistaken for a junkie.
While trapped inside a treatment center where she doesn’t belong, Brigette fights the transformation, the other residents, and the advances of a sleazy attendant, who trades sex with the girls for hits of their drugs.
(This is, clearly, Werewolf Girl, Interrupted.)
Mixed in with the teenage runaways, addicts, and abuse victims is a small, strange girl, Ghost. Ghost, younger than most of the other residents, and much younger in mental state, is there so the center to receive more government funding — she’s not an addict or runaway, just has nowhere else to go after Barbara, her grandmother, was badly burned in a fire. Barbara, wrapped in head-to-toe bandages that reveal only her eyes, lives a hollow existence in the burn ward while Ghost roams the grounds with the ease her name suggests.
As Brigette’s transformation grows more inevitable and the wolf gets closer, she becomes more determined to escape. She gets help in breaking out from Ghost, who knows seemingly all the secrets of the center.
After their escape, at Ghost’s grandmother’s house, the characters reveal their true natures and, just when you think the horror has ended, you find that, for some characters, it’s only beginning.
This turning of the tables, this creating expectations and then dashing them, is the central narrative trick of the film, just as it was in the first. Though the sequel is different, it does hold this, and a few other things, at its core.
Just as the original at first seemed to be Ginger’s story, but ended up being about Brigette’s transformation from introvert to powerhouse, this movie is clearly Brigette’s story until the end when another character is revealed as being the focus, the true orchestrator of the action.
This narrative instability is only fitting given the subject matter: Things are rarely what they seem in horror movies; werewolves seem to be one thing in their human forms but reveal themselves to be something entirely other when the full moon rises.
All is not perfect with this film. Ginger makes a number of appearances that don’t seem terribly necessary to the story. While it’s always a pleasure to see Katharine Isabelle on-screen, the film could have done just as easily without her, except that the title references her character.
Happily, this doesn’t spoil the film and the film stands on its own, a strong sequel that justifies its existence and merits a viewing.