"Welcome to Civilization": Colonialism, the Gothic, and Canada's Self-Protective Irony in the Ginger Snaps Werewolf Trilogy

By Rothenburger, Sunnie | Journal of Canadian Studies, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

"Welcome to Civilization": Colonialism, the Gothic, and Canada's Self-Protective Irony in the Ginger Snaps Werewolf Trilogy


Rothenburger, Sunnie, Journal of Canadian Studies


In this essay the author takes a closer look at the Ginger Snaps werewolf trilogy, examining the films' construction of colonial history and this history's continuing influence in Canada. The films use a combination of irony and the gothic to critique colonialism, but they do so in a way that places them within larger patterns of English-Canadian culture where the nation is only moderately criticized by such creative strategies. Ultimately, the films uphold racial hierarchies, maintain an essentialized idea of the nation itself, and occasionally appear to laud its power, even when the nation might initially or in some ways appear to be under figurative attack.

Dans cet article, l'auteure examine de plus près la trilogie sur les loups-garous Ginger Snaps, étudiant la construction de l'histoire coloniale dans ces films et l'influence continue de cette histoire au Canada. Les films utilisent un mélange d'ironie et de gothique pour critiquer le colonialisme mais ils le font d'une façon qui les place au sein de plus importantes tendances de la culture canathenne-anglaise où la nation n'est que modérément critiquée par de telles stratégies créatives. En somme, les films confirment certaines hiérarchies raciales, maintiennent une idée essentialisée de la nation même et, à l'occasion, semblent célébrer sa puissance, même lorsque Ia nation peut initialement ou de certaines façons sembler être l'objet d'une attaque figurative.

Caelum Vatnsdal observes that with the advent of the Ginger Snaps trilogy (2000-2004) "The words 'Canadian horror movies' were given some twenty-first century relevance, and it was badly needed" (2004, 222). The trilogy rewrites conventional horror with what Vatnsdal sees as a feminist point of view, and, indeed, it has received both popular attention and critical praise for its use of werewolf transformation as a metaphor for female adolescence. What has received less detailed attention, though, is its representation of nation. On the surface, the trilogy's work on nation parallels its subverting of conventional beliefs about gender, employing a combination of irony and the gothic to critique to some extent the history of patriarchy and colonization in Canada. Unfortunately, this critique also indirectly constructs an essentialized, albeit revised, national identity, one that is still founded on conventional images of Indigenous peoples, the appropriation of these peoples' position in relation to the land, and the stereotyping or ignoring entirely of other races and ethnicities in Canada.

Martin Barker, Ernest Mathijs, and Xavier Mendik see the trilogy's "theme of Canadian identity" as drawing fans just as much as its exploration of gender (2006, 70), and Vatnsdal hopes that the trilogy's third installment will begin a trend of "genre movies which actually take place in Canada and use Canadian settings to profitably exotic effect" (2004, 229). The settings of all three films do hint that they may be making some sort of commentary on Canadian culture. The first film (Fawcett 2000) follows sisters Ginger (played by Katherine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), who are inseparable until Ginger is bitten by a werewolf and begins to transform, wreaking havoc on their suburban Ontario community. Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (Sullivan 2004) portrays Brigitte, infected with the werewolf curse and haunted by Ginger's ghost, at a rehabilitation clinic located on the border between the city and the forest. Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (Harvey 2004) depicts the ancestors of Ginger and Brigitte, like them in name and almost every other way, in a nineteenth-century fort in the Canadian West, again facing werewolves.

The continuing popularity of the films - they were released as a boxed set in 2008 - and the critical claims made about the films being landmarks because of their "Canadianness" call for an examination of just how they are presenting the nation. Vatnsdal and Barker, Mathijs, and Mendik do not go much beyond observations about setting and the nationality of cast and crew members in this respect. …

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