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A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed

In the second film, the city proves no safer than the suburb for Brigitte who senses a stalker.

The opening credits have rapid jump cuts showing Brigitte shooting up monkshood and slashing herself with a razor. How quickly her wounds heal indicates the progression of her transformation into a werewolf and how well the antidote is working to delay it. Even with flashbacks of dialogue from the first film, without a knowledge of the original Ginger Snaps, the viewer, and Unleashed's characters, may see her as a drug addict and "troubled teen" who cuts herself.

The monkshood supply in her refrigerator indicates Brigitte is determined not to let a transformation occur.

This is precisely what Brigitte is trying to avoid.

Found after collapsing in a snow bank trying to flee the werewolf which is stalking her, Brigitte seems like a drug addict. She's admitted to a rehab clinic housed in an abandoned hospital where she is forced to undergo group therapy.

The theme of flight runs through all three films. Here Brigitte tries unsuccessfully to escape from the hospital.

Unlike in Fawcett's original film, Unleashed's director Brett Sullivan has no qualms about showing a full moon in a werewolf flick. The first part of the film was shot in an abandoned hospital in Alberta.

Ghost lives at the hospital where her grandmother is a burn patient. She's always spying and eavesdropping. Her granny named her Ghost and hated the loud noises - "which I made a lot of."

A Ghost's-eye view of the lecherous orderly, Tyler, offering Brigitte a dose of her contraband monkshood - if she will drop her pants.

Another reason why Brigitte needs her confisicated monkshood.

In a particularly poignant scene, as Brigitte's transformation accelerates she contemplates suicide by slitting her throat. Kurt Swinghammer's original score of pulsating industrial music shifts to a more sombre tone by quoting Michael Shield's moody theme from the first film.

The beast stalking Brigitte catches up with her inside the hospital, not to kill her but to mate with her.

An unsuspecting deer is caught in the trap Ghost set for the beast. A rapidly transforming Brigitte tears into its flesh.

After Brigitte uses up all the monkshood that Ghost stole from the hospital, she has little choice but to summon Tyler to the cabin. Due to her shakes, Tyler helps Brigitte with her injection.

As with Ginger before her, Brigitte's "infection" gives her sexual appetite. Her attempt to seduce Tyler backfires with the sudden apparition of her dead sister. (The ghostly Ginger appears throughout the film offering words of wisdom and warning to Brigitte.)

Jealous of the attention Tyler pays to Brigitte, and wanting Brigitte all to herself, Ghost concocts a story that he assaulted her which Brigitte, and the viewer is only too willing to believe - at first.

Ghost reveals her true self when she imprisons Brigitte in the cellar.

The final image is from the comic book which Ghost had been writing all along. The line between fiction and reality is easily crossed in Ghost's world.

 

Oh sister, where art thou?

"Sisters, sisters. There were never such devoted sisters." (Irving Berlin)

While it is Ginger's body that undergoes a series of transformations (puberty mirrored in/as lycanthropy), it is Brigitte who must cope with the fallout. In other words, Ginger undergoes a metamorphosis, while Brigitte reaches an epiphany: she is now separate/d from her sister. Thus, the arbitrary boundary of human/ monster so central to the contemporary horror genre lies not so much within Ginger herself but constitutes what now separates Ginger from Brigitte. "It's like we're no longer even related," Ginger says to Brigitte after killing a teacher and school janitor. In accordance, Brigitte must bear the brunt of, and assume responsibility for, Ginger's transgressions. It is Brigitte who charts the progress of Ginger's "condition," marking off on a calendar the days to her next period/full moon, and who locks Ginger in the bathroom on the day her full transformation is to occur (which of course will be Hallowe'en). And it is Brigitte who seeks outside help — in the form of a boy, Sam, who just happened to be driving by at the time of Ginger's attack, both running over and killing the beast and inserting himself into the narrative as witness.

Sam is also Bailey Downs' resident dope dealer and thus savvy to the potentialities of many an herb. Simply put, he has use value. He has not only a knowledge of botany but also a healthy respect for the existence of lycanthropy. Indeed, Sam is able to come up with an antidote to Ginger's affliction. But he is also a threat to the bond that Ginger and Brigitte have lived their lives securing. As Ginger would have it, Sam is a "pervert" whose only interest is in raping her sister. As writer Karen Walton aptly put it, Ginger expresses a "territorialism over Brigitte."[33]
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Any mapping of territory is a practice of exclusion, a containment if not an expulsion of that which threatens cohesion and unity. And throughout the film's second act we see both sisters trying to contain the other in an effort to resecure and protect their increasingly vulnerable territory of two. Indeed, most of Ginger's victims are figures who she perceived threatened her sister more than herself. And for Brigitte, the ultimate fear is Ginger's dying without her, violating their prior agreement to be "together forever," whether in life or death. What is read by both Pamela and Ginger as jealousy in being excluded from Ginger's rite of passage is, for Brigitte, an attempt to halt the process of differentiation and separation from her sister and restore their exclusivity. The only possibility for a future is to flee, together. But when Brigitte's plan to inject Ginger with Sam's antidote and "blow this joint" is foiled, Brigitte reprises their blood pact and infects herself instead with Ginger's "curse". "Now I am you," says the younger Fitzgerald. "Yes, but what am I?" is Ginger's response.

Ginger's (moral) crisis of identity is mapped onto Brigitte in the final moments of the first film. For when Ginger, now fully transformed into beast, attacks Sam leaving him for dead, Brigitte is unable to complete the job and join her sister in monsterhood. Indeed, at the film's close Ginger dies by Brigitte's own hand, in the same room where we first meet them: the bedroom they share in the unfinished basement of their parents' home. It bears reiterating here that death does not sever the sisterly bond entirely. To be sure, in Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed Ginger appears as a ghostly presence imparting words of wisdom to Brigitte, who intends to live out the rest of her now lycanthropic life trying to keep the monster within at bay with regular injections of monkshood (the antidote concocted by Sam). For Brigitte, unlike Ginger, there's nothing sexy about being a werewolf.

Where the (mis)recognition of puberty and lycanthropy and its Buffyesque "high school is hell" metaphor provided much of the original Ginger Snaps' humour, the second film, directed by Brett Sullivan (the cinematographer on the first film) and written by Megan Martin, sees Brigitte misrecognized as a drug addict and incarcerated in a rehab clinic housed in a debilitated and largely abandoned hospital. But while the discourse of addiction and group therapy scenes have their moments of mirth, "There's a room full of people who think you really suck at suicide," says one patient/inmate to Brigitte, Unleashed is decidedly darker than its predecessor. Returning again is the body as site of terror and beyond control. Puberty, however, is no longer an issue but rather the ravages of drugs on the body and self-mutilation. We see opening credits juxtaposing voiceover flashbacks to the first film with images of Brigitte now cutting herself and "shooting up".

The action also moves from suburb to city (though with the suburbs not being too far behind); from home and high school to hospital in the first half of the film, and a cabin in the woods in the second. Sisterly devotion also reprises its role in Unleashed, but ever more tenuous with biological kinship put to the test with the character of Ghost, a young girl who befriends Brigitte at the hospital. "I've always wanted a sister," the girl says cheerily upon Brigitte telling her how and why she deliberately infected herself with Ginger's virus ("I thought I could make her stop if I was like her.") Ghost, however, has her own reasons for wanting a werewolf for a sister, the sum total of her knowledge, up to this point, gleaned from her stash of comic books which, by the end of the film, take over "the real."

Moral terror unleashed, or Ghost's world

The sequel begins with a glimpse of Brigitte's new life in the city following her (solo) flight from Bailey Downs. Life, as we know it, may not be the best word to describe it, however, as Brigitte's state of being is reduced to a bare(ly) biological existence, if not an outright biological experiment. It is now winter and she lives in a seedy motel, frequenting a local library late at night to check out books on bloodletting and the like. Brigitte is only ever one step ahead of the virus/ werewolf within and charts its progression by slashing herself with a razor at timed intervals, recording the varying lengths of time it takes for the wound to heal. Injecting monkshood, as the ghostly Ginger reminds her, is not a cure but only slows down the inevitable transformation. Also Brigitte is only ever one step ahead of the (male) werewolf, which is stalking her on the "outside" not in order to kill her but, as we later discover, to mate with her.

Lecherous males, both real and imagined in the first film, have an increased presence in the second. Aside from the boy werewolf which stalks her, Brigitte also has to contend with a young male library employee who has designs on her at the outset of the film, not to mention Tyler, an orderly at the hospital who grants young female patients their illicit drugs in exchange for illicit sexual favours. Here any distinction between "inside" and "outside" collapses as the threat of danger knows no boundaries. The wolf which lurks outside the hospital is paralleled by the dangerous wolf inside, namely Tyler.[34] The hospital has other dangers, of course, namely Brigitte herself. Thinking Brigitte is a drug addict, the staff confiscates the vials of monkshood she was carrying at the time she was (unknowingly) admitted.[35] Without the antidote to slow down her transformation into fully fledged werewolf, Brigitte is acutely aware that she presents a danger to those around her. Her resistance to being treated as an addict is read as "denial" and when she tries to warn the earnest yet hapless social worker, Alice, that "people are going to die," Brigitte is locked in her room for issuing threats.

The only person who believes Brigitte's story is Ghost, the young girl whose legal guardian grandmother lies wrapped in bandages following a house fire. With no place to go and no one to care for her, Ghost remains a resident of the hospital, where she seems to have acquired a particular skill for being everywhere and seeing everything she shouldn't. When she finds the grisly remains of her pet dog, Ghost initially confronts Brigitte as the killer, having witnessed key details of her transformation and attempts to deter it. Once satisfied that she's not "the monster," Ghost helps Brigitte escape through the ventilation system and deserted corridors of the hospital's empty wing. Along the way, Brigitte encounters fellow patient Beth Ann having just performed fellatio on Tyler and enjoying a snort of her reward. By this point, the (other) monster is now inside the hospital in pursuit of his potential mate. A wounded Brigitte and Ghost manage to escape (Beth Ann is not so lucky), steal a car and, with Ghost at the helm, drive to the safety of grandmother Barbara's house, which is a secluded country cabin (with safety being relative in a horror film).

Brigitte and Ghost escape from the hospital and...

...flee to grandmother Barbara's house in the woods.

While en route, Ghost quizzes Brigitte about the werewolf as if reciting from one of her comic books (which she does throughout the film): "Where did it come from? The infinite darkness?" "More like the suburbs," says Brigitte. If the suburbs encroach upon the city, fleeing to the woods is only a temporary respite. "It's going to find you," says Ghost (echoing Ginger in a prior scene), and eventually it does, but not before she gets a chance to play surrogate sister to Brigitte, e.g, munching on potato chips while camped out in front of the fireplace. Life with Brigitte around is like having a "permanent sleep-over," something Ghost's grandmother prohibited. Ghost is clearly having the time of her life, and Brigitte gradually comes to bond with her in the absence and loss of her (once living) biological sister. Time, however, is not something that Brigitte can enjoy and once she uses up the monkshood that Ghost managed to confiscate from the clinic, Brigitte has little choice but to call Tyler.

This is all a big adventure for Ghost who relishes the opportunity to have a big sister.

Missing her 'real' sister, Brigitte bonds with Ghost.

It is once Tyler arrives at the cabin that Ghost's (seemingly innocent) musings of a "moral terror" take shape — and a twist. The line separating fiction from reality is, in Ghost's world, a blurry one. The girl not only devours comic books on werewolves and the supernatural, she assembles her own. Moreover, she lives them. In reciting a tale to Tyler late one night at the clinic, the following exchange takes place:

Ghost: "Late at night, secret chambers, he carried out his reign of moral terror."
Tyler: "Isn't that mortal terror?"
Ghost: (cheerily) "No!"

The sort of terror that unfolds at the cabin does indeed play out in a moral dimension, but one in which any easy determination of "good" and "evil" collapses. Even though we know Tyler to be a sexual predator with patients, his relationship with Ghost at the clinic is tender and caring. Tyler, in fact, freaks out when the monkshood he administers to Brigitte at the cabin causes the veins in her arm to swell violently and horrifically to the point of almost bursting. Tyler's desire to help, rather than harm, Brigitte is not lost on Ghost. Nor is Brigitte's attempt, while in transformation mode, to seduce him (which is thwarted by Ginger's sudden apparition). As with Ginger before her, Ghost has marked Brigitte as her territory and must maintain and "protect" what she's conquered from any outside invader. The short of it is that Ghost fabricates a scenario wherein she is sexually assaulted by Tyler, and Brigitte, unaware of the deception, is only too happy to turn him out into the snow to be devoured by the monster outside.

Understandably, Brigitte was more willing to believe Ghost's version of the event than Tyler's: "I don't think she knows what's real and what's a cartoon," he said to Brigitte when quizzed about the gashes to his face. And, up to this point, the viewer sees only what Brigitte does: a dishevelled Ghost trembling in the attic accusing Tyler and Tyler downstairs examining his wounds. The audience's point of view shifts to that of Ghost, however, as we witness her witnessing the bloody demise of Tyler through the window, unbeknownst to Brigitte. Thus, when Ghost subsequently asks Brigitte where Tyler is, we come to suspect her duplicity before Brigitte does. Once social worker Alice arrives on the scene, however, Brigitte comes to the realization that not only is Ghost lying about the incident with Tyler, but the circumstances surrounding grandma Barbara as well. It was Ghost who set the fire which nearly burned Barbara alive, and quite deliberately. And Tyler? "He was going to take you away from me."

Ghost's efforts to get rid of Tyler and possess Brigitte completely stem from more than a mere desire for a (mortal) sister, however. By the film's end, Ghost has killed Alice and trapped a rapidly transforming Brigitte in the cellar (where she'd fallen whilst killing the monster who had meanwhile gained entrance to the cabin). In the final scene the camera sweeps through the main floor of the cabin. The dining room table is set for two and a "Welcome Home Barbara" banner hangs from the door frame. The trap door to the cellar is padlocked, and being banged on from below. We hear the sounds of a monster howling. Upstairs in the attic, Ghost sits with her back to the camera and is writing at her table. Brigitte provides a voiceover: "Growing steadily stronger beneath the floorboards, her faithful companion, with a deadly hunger for human flesh, waited to unleash the darkness and fury of hell on her mistress's enemies, of which there were many." The doorbell sounds, Ghost turns around in her chair and smiles as Brigitte's voiceover continues: "And so begins Ghost's reign of moral terror."

As the beast gains entrance and all hell breaks loose in the cabin, Brigitte confronts Ghost about her lies.

Only in Canada would a curling stone be the ultimate weapon for fending off a werewolf.

Not every little girl gets to have a pet werewolf in the basement and while the tale ultimately ends well for Ghost, Brigitte's fate is in some senses even more tragic than Ginger's before her. For whereas Ginger at least got to die a "real" death, and with a modicum of dignity — at the hands of the sister who loved her and in the only space where they'd ever felt secure — Brigitte has neither the certainty of death nor possibility of escape. Imprisoned by Ghost, maintained and kept alive for the sole purpose of killing, Brigitte's is not a life worth living. Indeed, neither fully dead nor truly alive, Brigitte hovers in between, devoid of a self to call her own and denied the rights that (ideally) should accompany it. It is Ghost who assumes and enjoys a sovereign authority over the life held within her power. In other words, her reign of terror — as much moral as mortal — is an exercise of sovereign power. Ghost determines who will live and who will die, and who will remain in a stasis in between. As sovereign, Ghost is able to transcend and suspend the rule of law itself which collapses into a state of violence. Returning to Agamben,

"the sovereign is the point of indistinction between violence and law, the threshold on which violence passes over into law and law passes over into violence."[36]

More complex a matter than the "real" monster turning out to be a human, and a child at that, in Unleashed we bear witness to the mechanisms of sovereign decision as biopower: the administration of, and presiding over, life and death. From the clinic which regulates the drugs which enter her body and attempts to modify her behaviour, to the child who imprisons her in order to lay claim to that body and the havoc it can unleash, Brigitte's life is defined solely by inclusion in the order which excludes her. Moreover, as a werewolf, Brigitte (as with Ginger in the first film) occupies a threshold of indistinction between animal and human, simultaneously included and excluded. Precisely "neither man nor beast," the werewolf "dwells paradoxically within both while belonging to neither."[37]

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