The “Last Girl” is a horror movie trope so prevalent we don’t even think twice when we see it. She is the survivor of whatever atrocities the film has set up for its victims, and usually makes it to the end by keeping her clothes on and her wits sharp. Occasionally, a horror movie will upend traditional female roles and allow women to be both the survivor and the baddie. Two films in particular use the pairing of heroine and villain to illustrate the nature of female relationships: Ginger Snaps and Jennifer’s Body. Although one movie deals with sisters and the other a pair of best friends, their plots are remarkably similar. (Although their views on female relationships are very different.) Which one is better? Read along and find out!
Ginger Snaps (2007): Death-obsessed teenage sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) hate everything except each other, and spend their time avoiding other teens, who just seem stupid and boring. Without each other they have nothing, and they constantly hold on to their suicide pact as a way out of all the crap they have to endure. They live with their clueless father and loving mother (Mimi Rogers with the worst hairstyle in movie history), who have no idea what is really going on with their daughters. This all changes when Ginger is bitten by a werewolf on the night of her first period. Her interest in all things physical manifests, and it turns out the new desire she thought was for sex is really for ripping apart flesh. The more she changes, the less she is interested in hanging out with her sister, and Brigitte turns to the local drug dealer (Kris Lemche) for help. They think they have come up with a cure, but time is running out for Ginger to remain undiscovered, as Brigitte is forced to deal with the mounting number of dead bodies her sister leaves behind.
The use of lycanthropy as a metaphor for female puberty works really well here, and Katharine Isabelle is great as the slightly less introverted sister who morphs into a sexually active man-eater. As the hormones rush through her body, she wants things that she cannot even name, and where she is going Brigitte cannot follow. Ginger accuses Brigitte of being jealous, but in reality, Brigitte just wants her sister to come back from the edge. She is loyal through thick and thin, and never loses her focus, even when tempted by the faint chance of romance with the wild boy that all the girls desire. The relationship between the two sisters deteriorates over the course of the film—due to Ginger’s jealousy and murderous rages—but until her own life is threatened, Brigitte’s only goal is to help her sister.
Jennifer’s Body (2009): Life-long best friends Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) have formed a seemingly strong friendship over the years. Jennifer is the beautiful, self-centered cheerleader, and Needy is her nerdy (but hot when the glasses come off) best friend who sticks by her even though she has to always play second fiddle. Jennifer might be stupid in school, but she is very smart about what motivates men and has the entire town’s supply of boys wrapped around her finger. Tired of the local talent, she and Needy attend a concert at a local bar, where she has her eye on the out-of-town band’s lead singer (Adam Brody). In a freak “accident,” the bar burns down and Jennifer ends up leaving with the band, Low Shoulder. She returns to Needy’s house covered in blood and with a newfound hunger for something besides attention. She takes to eating her boyfriends, and then confesses to Needy that Low Shoulder tried to sacrifice her to Satan, but there was a problem with her virginity (or lack thereof) and now a very hungry demon resides inside her. Needy has a certain amount of trouble accepting the situation as business as usual, and comes up with a plan to destroy the demon. But will she be able to implement it before Jennifer sets eyes on Needy’s boyfriend?
I was not too happy with this movie when it first came out, but liked it more upon a second viewing. It takes a fairly stereotypical view of female friendships—that women are in constant competition—and makes that the subtext of the story. Jennifer is a horrible friend to Needy, but, for whatever reason, Needy sticks by until Jennifer succumbs to demonic possession. Other than the whole cannibalism thing, Jennifer doesn’t seem much different than she was before. Needy only rejects her when Jennifer starts to encroach on what Needy views as hers—her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons). The film has some snappy dialogue thanks to writer Diablo Cody, and the performances are okay. Megan Fox doesn’t have much range to work with, but it is nice to see her in a role that deals with the objectification of women head on. Her character understands the value that her looks give her and overtly comments on it.
The Victor: Hands down, it’s Ginger Snaps. I’m not even going to pretend that it was a hard decision. It’s just a better movie with more interesting subtext. I do think that Jennifer’s Body is not as bad as some of the reviews would indicate, but it is problematic that the friendship between Needy and Jennifer is not very believable. They don’t really have much in common, and Needy never seems all that upset once Jennifer is no longer exactly herself. (And maybe she is relieved that she now has an excuse to kill Jennifer. This might have been a more interesting movie had they revealed that Needy had always really hated Jennifer and was just looking for a reason.) Ginger Snaps has some problems—the sisters look much older than their stated ages, the budget is much lower, and what exactly is up with Brigitte’s hair? It looks like a horrible wig. But it’s a better movie. It’s a little weird, but it takes its metaphors seriously and is successful in using horror to explore what it means to be a teenage girl. It also delves into friendship and sisterhood, and doesn’t assume that either of those relationships will always be set aside at the promise of romance.