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Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed

Directed by Brett Sullivan Written by Megan Martin Starring Emily Perkinsand Tatiana Maslany Classification: 18A Rating: **½

The horror film Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed is an anomaly, not only as a Canadian sequel, but a sequel to a film that was not a big studio production or all that successful at the box office in the first place. Yet Ginger Snaps (2000) won some international awards and was enough of a success as a cult film and critical hit to justify a continuation of the story.

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Director John Fawcett and writer Karen Walton's witty feminist horror film -- which made a metaphoric link between lycanthropy and menstruation -- introduced us to Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), who is attacked by a werewolf shortly after she has her first period. Soon she begins to develop strange appetites, body hair and even a tail. In the movie's most memorable line, her pre-menstrual younger sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) observes: "There's something wrong, like more than you just being female." By the movie's end, Brigitte was compelled to shove a kitchen knife through her infected sister's chest and had been bitten herself.

Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed picks up the action almost directly afterward, when Brigitte is on the run. The film has a new writer (Megan Martin) and director (Brett Sullivan, who edited Ginger Snaps), though Fawcett continues on as executive producer. Though less original and satiric than the original, and more decorated with gore and prank scares, the movie maintains the previous film's mordant tone.

This time, it's more a parody of a teen runaway story than a horror movie. Brigitte is on the run, occasionally haunted by visitations from her dead sister. She's living in a rundown motel, busy mainlining "monk's root" (also known as wolf bane) to delay the onset of the werewolf disease. Soon she discovers she has a new problem: another werewolf is stalking her.

After an unpleasant encounter with the beast that leaves her passed out in a snow bank, Brigitte wakes to find herself in the Happier Times Care Centre for drug-addicted teens. She's under the supervision of well-meaning but clueless counsellor, Alice (Janet Kidder, with blunt-cut short hair and a tattoo): "I've been where you are," she assures Brigitte. But, of course, she hasn't, and soon Alice feels obliged to put her into solitary confinement.

If the first movie was about the icky process of maturity, the new movie is more diffuse. At least at the beginning, it seems to be about the fears and draw of sex, played out as a parody of a B exploitation flick about incarcerated teenaged girls. (The rehab centre brings to mind the reform school in Reese Witherspoon's Freeway). A handsome but sleazy orderly named Tyler (Eric Johnson) gives the girls drugs in exchange for sex, and the supervisors lead group masturbation sessions to help the girls learn to love their bodies. Meanwhile, the werewolf who tracks Brigitte down appears to want to mate with her. Her only friend is a 14-year-old social outcast called Ghost (Tatiana Maslany), an aspiring comic-book writer and probable arsonist, who knows all the secrets of the Happier Times facility.

When Brigitte and her new surrogate sister make a break for it, they bring the story to its climax in a standoff in a decrepit house. Apart from a range of Home Alone-style booby traps and trap doors, the ending is not so much suspenseful as distractingly eclectic -- campy, grotesque and sentimental all at once -- and all of it buzzing and clanging to composer Kurt Swinghammer's machine-shop musical score. When the monster itself appears on screen, it is inevitably disappointing; the same creature appeared in Ginger Snaps, it's no spoiler to announce it looks like a big grumpy dog with a lion's head and dental defects.

If Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed feels a bit scattered and the humour self-congratulatory, at least the performances never flag. Tatiana Maslany as Ghost is a consistently eerie little kid and Emily Perkins is not just another Buffy the Vampire Slayer clone. With her long Patti Smith face, blazing eyes and scornful sneer, she just isn't the kind of girl, or wolf, with whom anyone would want to mess.

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The ending leaves room for a subsequent Ginger Snaps, though fans won't have to wait long for their next teen she-wolf episode. A prequel is scheduled to be released in March, in which the original two sisters, in an earlier incarnation, find themselves fighting werewolves in Canada in the 19th century. Perhaps it will shed new light on the fur trade.

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