Vicious Cycles


Though it merely extends the bloodline of feminist horror that runs from Cat People to Carrie to The Company of Wolves, the linkage between puberty and lycanthropy in John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps is imagined with enough savage wit to count as an act of genre resuscitation. Attuned to teenspeak cadences, fascinated by the complex bonds of sisterhood, and not entirely averse to body-horrific gore, this Canadian cheapie plays like an above-average Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, filtered through the sensibility of early David Cronenberg.

Late-blooming sisters Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) skulk through their drab suburb and miserable high school (“total hormonal toilet,” spits 15-year-old Brigitte) in a perpetual kill-me-now fog. The siblings’ psych-class project, which doubles as the opening credit sequence, features them in a series of grisly tableaux morts (lawn mower, garage door, and picket fence accidents). When Ginger, at nearly 16, finally has her first period, one curse begets another. The momentous event (manic, glint-eyed mom Mimi Rogers bakes a big strawberry cake) coincides with a full moon and an attack by a wild, furry beast, presumably the one responsible for the dog carcasses littering the neighborhood. Ginger soon sprouts more-than-pubic hair, grows a tail, and develops a hungry-like-the-wolf carnal appetite—all to the horror of premenstrual little sis (“Something’s wrong, like, more than just you being female”). Brigitte forms an unlikely alliance with the affable local pot dealer (Kris Lemche) and scrambles to find a cure for Ginger in time for the next red alert, conveniently scheduled for Halloween.

Ginger’s condition, described as an “infection,” is sexually transmitted to a helpless suitor, and she indulges in brief fits of pseudo-feminist sloganeering, but on the whole Karen Walton’s script—well-served by Fawcett’s cleverly frugal direction—races through its rampantly mixed-metaphoric terrain, moving too quickly to belabor any of its allusions. Ginger Snaps lingers, however, on the organic separations and awkwardly redefined relationships that haunt any adolescence—it depicts the entry into adulthood as an agonizing, necessary ritual of severed ties.

Also stretching the notion of “period piece” considerably, the 19th-century slasher movie A Chronicle of Corpses is easily the most peculiar American indie to play New York theaters this year. Philadelphia-based 22-year-old writer-director Andrew Repasky McElhinney has devised a sort of bargain-basement gothic, alternately flamboyant and minimal, in which an aristocratic clan falls prey, one by one, to a knife-wielding, underdressed bald woman. The actors (presided over by soap opera dame Marj Dusay) are posed like mannequins and assigned correspondingly waxen monologues. Abe Holtz’s resourceful camera switches between fussy, iconic frescoes and showboat prowls. An overweening classical score only thickens the air of rancid opulence and humid religiosity. The amusing solemnity sometimes shades into tedium, but McElhinney may have made the ultimate anti-calling card, a movie bold and deranged enough to tip its hat to Edgar Ulmer and Barry Lyndon.

In Kill by Inches, a young tailor (Arnaud Desplechin regular Emmanuel Salinger) is driven mad with envy by the superior sartorial talents of his sister (Myriam Cyr), and compelled to regard the tools of his trade as murder weapons. The debut feature by NYU grads Arthur Flam and Diane Doniol-Valcroze (daughter of Cahiers du Cinéma cofounder Jacques) is a ponderous, almost wordless sliver of grotesquerie that doggedly suggests cut-rate Jeunet/Caro or Quay Brothers—until the finale, at which point derivative ostentation gives way to singular fatuousness.