Barely making an impact at theaters but an almost immediate cult fave among home-viewing genre fans, the 2000 “Ginger Snaps” werewolf story was rooted in the reality of a female adolescence’s awkward psychological/physical changes — lending pic wit and character involvement before the routine slasher bloodshed took over. Despite absence of original’s director and writers (new helmer Brett Sullivan was first film’s editor), sequel “Unleashed” keeps most cliches at bay, and actually is less formulaic, even if storytelling and perfs remain uneven. Canuck production goes straight to U.S. vid this month; hardtop play in other territories isn’t out of the question.
Last time round, Brigitte (Emily Perkins) mercy-killed her rabid elder sister Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) — but was bitten herself mid-act. Now gloomy Brigitte hides out in a nowhere town, with Ginger a caustic ghost-presence who ridicules Brigitte’s struggle to keep her blood-thirstiness under control.
An alpha wolf-man sniffs out Brigitte’s current whereabouts, leading to a sympathetic young guy’s gory demise and Brigitte’s being committed to a psych-ward-cum-terminal-patient hospital. (As in “Barbarian Invasions,” strained institutional multi-usage offers barbed commentary on Canada’s health care system.) There, she’s assumed to be a teen junkie and is subjected to some amusing parodic therapy-speak from pompous docs and “fellow” substance-abuse patients.
The only way Brigitte can avoid a hairy transformation is with herbal wolfbane serum. To get it, she has to bargain with smug orderly Tyler (Eric Johnson), who trades drugs for sexual favors. She reluctantly accepts an ally in “Ghost” (Tatiana Maslany), a needy and morbid little girl whose only living relative is her mother, a severe-burn victim.
When the wolf-guy tracks Brigitte down, she and Ghost escape to the latter’s empty rural home, where they arm themselves against the relentless lycanthrope pursuer. Tyler, grandmotherly Barbara (Susan Adam) and the hospital’s Dr. Alice (Janet Kidder) have the bad luck to try interceding.
There’s some funny dialogue early on, and surprising upsets in character logic later help offset the junior-Goth-chick sulkiness of Perkins’ drear lead turn, not to mention improbabilities around Maslany’s over precocious child figure. No character emerges with the satirical zest of the last chapter’s serial mom Mimi Rogers — but then no thesp here sports the perpetually underrated Rogers’ panache.
Pic never quite hits bull’s-eye in terms of scariness, black comedy or sheer outre fantasy. Nonetheless, it consistently avoids obviousness, and is slickly executed on all levels. F/x are sufficiently gory/vivid.