Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on January 30, 2004, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

Yep, there’s no II in the onscreen title. And that’s appropriate, because against the odds, here’s a sequel to a video-driven genre favorite that stands on its own four paws as an accomplished horror film, one that stays true to the original’s themes without depending on its memory to carry it. Opening today in theaters across its native Canada, Unleashed will be going the straight-to-video route in the U.S. (via Lions Gate on April 13), which is a shame, as it can easily stand up against most of what the major studios have given us lately in the fright field.

One of the nice things about the movie is that it doesn’t attempt to hide its Canadian origins and pretend it’s set in the States; director Brett Sullivan (the first film’s editor) and cinematographers Henry Less and Gavin Smith get plenty of mileage out of the barren, wintry Edmonton-area locations. Another plus is that, unlike so many genre sequels, Unleashed doesn’t take the easy route of trying to outdo its predecessor in terms of blood and body count. Instead, Megan Martin’s smart script keeps a tight focus on Brigitte (Emily Perkins), who is living a painfully solitary existence after killing her wolfed-out sister Ginger, and staving off her own impending transformation with injections of poisonous monkshood. And her own burgeoning lycanthropy isn’t all she has to worry about; another beast is out there somewhere, stalking Brigitte with the intention to mate with her and carry on the species. The idea, continuing from the first Ginger Snaps, that werewolves exist out there in the shadows and emerge only to propagate their bloodline—and rip apart anyone who gets in their way—remains a compellingly creepy one.

When Brigitte is discovered unconscious in the snow with the monkshood coursing through her system, she winds up in a drug treatment center where she’s befriended by a spunky young horror-comics fan named Ghost (Tatiana Maslany), and where handsome but sleazy orderly Tyler (Eric Johnson) might slip her some of the “drug” she desperately needs in exchange for the right favors. At the same time, Brigitte either imagines or hallucinates visitations by Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), who takes a rather fatalistic view of Brigitte’s predicament. A shift in the sisters’ relationship from the previous movie takes place; where Brigitte did her best to stop Ginger’s transformation, now Ginger seems to be encouraging Brigitte to succumb to the beast growing within her.

Sullivan and Martin, perhaps wisely, don’t seek to repeat the original’s potent metaphor of lycanthropy for the bodily changes wrought by adolescence. As a result, Unleashed isn’t quite as resonant, but it does just fine as a brooding chiller in which the terror is generated not so much from the threat of the stalking creature (though its attacks do generate a few solid shocks) but from watching Brigitte struggle to stave off the inevitable. In this it benefits enormously from the lead performance of Perkins, who effortlessly and evocatively conveys the pain of Brigitte’s “condition” and her weakening resolve to stave it off. It’s a shame that she hasn’t been as visible as Isabelle (who’s quite good herself here) since they made their mark in the first Snaps; Perkins is a confessed horror fan, and genre filmmakers should really be beating down her door. (Memo to the people doing the English-language remake of the Korean chiller A Tale of Two Sisters: Howzabout Perkins and May’s Angela Bettis in the title roles? Just a thought.)

The supporting cast is pretty strong as well, particularly Maslany as Brigitte’s confidant in the rehab center. The character of the overenthusiastic genre fan has become an annoying convention in movies, but Martin’s writing and Maslany’s performance transcend clichés to make her an engagingly offbeat presence who takes a morbid but sympathetic interest in Brigitte’s plight. Johnson is convincingly smarmy as the scheming Tyler, while Janet Kidder brings enough concern to her role as a hospital supervisor to keep you from dwelling on her resemblance to her aunt Margot.

There’s a pleasing undercurrent of black humor (keep an eye out for the center’s T-shirts) to offset the gruesome stuff, with nasty gore and pretty cool creature FX by the KNB team. If the pace flags a bit around the hour mark, the final reel rebounds to showcase genuinely surprising and unexpectedly grim developments. The concluding film in this trilogy, Ginger Snaps Back, will be a 19th-century-set prequel, and that’s almost a shame; Unleashed is one of those rare sequels with an ending that’s effective enough to make one interested in seeing a further direct continuation of the story.

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