Maple Syrup Massacre is a monthly series where Bloody Disgusting dissects the themes, conventions and contributions of new and classic Canadian horror films. Spoilers follow…
In the first edition of Maple Syrup Massacre, Adam MacDonald’s Backcountry highlighted the woods as a threat, as well as an opportunity to highlight one of the main “types” of Canadian male characters.
This month, those ideas remain in play, but they’re being contextualized by the concept of a garrison, or “fort mentality” and filtered through the lens of Grant Harvey’s Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning. The 2004 film is a prequel to the original Ginger Snaps, and was shot back to back with the sequel, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed. The first film is set in a generic-looking Ontario suburb, whereas the second film is set in an asylum on the border of the city and the forest.
The third film, which purports to examine the origins of the werewolf curse by tracing its lineage back to Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins)’ ancestors in the 19th century, is set primarily within the walls of Fort Bailey, situated deep in the woods of Ontario (although the film was actually shot in Edmonton, on the other side of the country).
Before we discuss the film, a Canadian history lesson:
Modern colonialism began in Canada with the establishment of trading forts set up along the river systems in both Ontario and Quebec. European explorers arrived in two waves: the French arrived first in the late 16th century, establishing trade routes in what is now Quebec (specifically along the St. Lawrence River, with a base of operations in Montreal). The French coureurs de bois (wood runners) bartered with local Indigenous tribes as part of the fur trade of beaver pelts (Canada’s national animal). The English were technically present around Hudson’s Bay during this time, though it was only when the English “conquered” Canada in the mid-18th century (ie: defeated the French) that they began an aggressive Western expansion. This necessitated the creation of a system of trading forts to facilitate the transportation and sale of goods to explorers, as well as the companies who employed them (North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company). Indigenous people, initially valued for their knowledge and expertise, were eventually relocated, abused and/or killed when the colonial project deemed them unnecessary.
This history is important because Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning includes both English and French characters, as well as Indigenous peoples, in the narrative. When the film opens, Brigitte and Ginger stumble out of the woods and into a trading fort whose barricaded inhabitants live in fear of the wolves outside of the gate. The girls explain that they are the lone survivors of a shipwreck that claimed their parents (this is a lie, although the truth of their situation is never wholly explained). Considering the timeline, their explanation would suggest that their family are voyageurs (French Canadians who transported furs by canoe), though the girls are clearly not French.
As always, there is a significant gendered element to the film. In Ginger Snaps Back, the girls are the only women in a fort populated exclusively by men and their sudden appearance inside the fort’s walls leads some men to blame them for the werewolf attacks. For men, the fort is a protected space – literally a safe space against the outside world and its respective monsters.
This is because the fort is a symbol of the garrison mentality, a term coined by Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye and then popularized by author Margaret Atwood in her 1972 non-fiction bestseller, Survival: A Thematic Guide To Canadian Literature. The concept stems from the belief that Canadian identity (as we explored in the last column) is inherently fearful of the Canadian landscape and the oppressiveness of others, which can only be combated by the erection of a protected homestead.
The fallibility of concept is obvious: by locking the world out, you are required to lock yourself in. In horror films, boundaries exist primarily to be torn down, which is exactly what occurs in Ginger Snaps Back. Throughout the narrative, the walls of Fort Bailey are repeatedly breached, allowing death and illness to seep into the so-called civilized world within.
The concept of civilization is literally embodied by the fort, which acts as a microcosm for Canada in the 19th century. It is populated by both the English and the French and most of the men do not get along. There are two men of notable professions: a doctor (Matthew Walker) and a Reverend (Hugh Dillon), both of whom are eventually revealed to be hypocrites. Doc Murphy is a drug addict whose talents are used not to heal, but to identify werewolves. Meanwhile, the Reverend’s first notable act after the girls enter the fort is to lock them in a building with a werewolf, recite a Latin verse and encourage them to burn in hell.
The other men are no better. James (J.R. Bourne) attempts to rape Brigitte and even fort leader Wallace (Tom McCamus), arguably the best man in the group, lies about his son Geoffrey (Stevie Mitchell)’s condition, which results not only in Ginger’s infection, but ultimately the destruction of the fort and everyone inside of it. In this capacity, all of these men once again adhere to the Canadian conventions of male characters: Wallace and Doc Murphy are cowards, while James and the Reverend are bullies who threaten and intimidate the Fitzgerald sisters. The fact that none of them survive the film confirms that the garrison mentality, particularly for men, is fallible and dangerous.
The sisters, by comparison, are adaptable. Initially they, too, struggle against the elements: Brigitte’s foot is caught in a bear trap and later, when they flee the fort with their Indigenous guide Milo (Fabian Bird), the roaming POV shots and quick pans reinforce the dangers of the outside world. By film’s end, however, when the men’s “civilization” has been destroyed and the fort burned down, an infected Ginger informs Brigitte that she is unbothered by the cold, suggesting that the “curse” of the werewolf will allow them to survive in the wilds of Canada where men could not.
One final notable element in Ginger Snaps Back is its treatment of Indigenous characters. While it is true that both the Seer (Edna Rain) and the Hunter (Nathaniel Arcand) are stereotypically noble and sage, it is fascinating that they are also the only rational characters in the film. The men of Fort Bailey act primarily out of fear, attempting to hide or dispel anything that they do not understand. Even the Fitzgerald sisters are driven by their emotional connection to each other, which is why Brigitte elects to stay with her sister and propagate the curse on the land that will one day become Bailey’s Down from the first film (an inversion of the the first film’s ending).
For all of their likability, Brigitte and Ginger are not heroines. The reality of the narrative is that they murder all of the Indigenous characters in the film, including Milo, the Seer and the Hunter. The Fitzgerald sisters are therefore stand-ins for the white colonialists who murdered countless Indigenous people in order to prosper and “create” the nation. On the surface, the melancholy ending of the film suggests that Brigitte and Ginger’s decision to remain in the woods is the start of the cycle documented in Ginger Snaps. The reality is that this reading privileges the story of two white women, which erases the story and contributions of the Indigenous people whose land Fort Bailey and the girls occupy. Just like real life, white history is given precedence at the expense of the historically marginalized, original settlers of the land.
In this capacity, the film reflects a dark, uncomfortable history of Canada that remains – to this day – rarely acknowledged. For that reason alone, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning is worth a rewatch.
Next time on Maple Syrup Massacre: let’s celebrate the start of the school year with some math and madness in Vincenzo Natali’s Cube!
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Author : Joe Lipsett
Publish date : 2019-08-01 15:26:32