Based on a novel by Stephen McGeagh, Habit is a new British horror film set in the neon-drenched streets of Manchester. An interesting blend of neo noir and horror, Habit is the rare horror film that does not show its entire hand in its promotional materials. The film’s synopsis is vague and its trailer really only introduces you to the film’s tone. With this kind of intrigue, Habit offers a nice hook for horror fans craving something potentially a little different.
Michael is an aimless young man in Manchester, dividing his time between the unemployment centre and the local pub. Having lost his mother at a young age, Michael’s only family is his older sister, Mand, who struggles with mental illness. In a chance encounter, Michael meets a young woman, Jessica, who introduces him to her “uncle”, Ian. Impressed by Michael, Ian hires him to work the door at Cloud 9, his massage parlor. During one late-night shift, Michael witnesses the death of a client and finds himself slowly dragged into a nightmare underworld where dark secrets are hidden in Cloud 9’s basement.
Neo Noir Infused Horror
For the first half of Habit, writer and director Simeon Halligan treats the audience to an interesting blend of neo noir and pure horror elements. While Habit is a lower budget film, it’s not evident at all in its production values or the cinematography. Manchester’s neon-infused clubs and dark, seedy alleyways are gorgeously filmed. Halligan also methodically blends the film’s initial crime elements with little bits of horror themes. The result is an engaging mystery that dares you to piece together what direction the story will take before it happens.
Gut-Wrenching Gore Defines the Middle Act
At around the midpoint of Habit, the story takes a turn full tilt into its horror elements with some gut-wrenching gore. Undoubtedly, the twist in the story was unexpected and, if the first third’s neo noir approach adds some mystery, the second act’s descent into the macabre only increases the intrigue. Halligan maintains a deft balance between disturbing gore and the film’s character-driven plot. As mentioned above, the film’s lower budget has no impact on quality and the practical make-up effects deliver. In addition, Halligan uses the explicit gore very sparingly. A few nightmare and dream-like sequences introduce some erotic elements reminiscent of Ken Russell’s work.
Habit Consumes Itself in its Final 20 Minutes
In spite of Habit’s effective methodical pacing and interesting blend of styles, the film falls apart in the last 20 minutes or so. This is due in large part to the lack of pay off as you expect the various story elements to coalesce by the ending. Halligan does introduce some interesting ideas around “predator-prey” relationships and a cannibalistic lower-class subculture ‘preying’ on the socially powerful. However, these ideas don’t come together into a meaningful commentary by the conclusion. Audiences may also be confused about where ‘habit’ from the title comes into play. Maybe I missed something, but I was never clear on whether this referred to the ‘habits’ that regular people fall into or the hunger for flesh. Like the 1999 cult classic Ravenous, there are some hints that consuming flesh makes the characters ‘feel alive’, but the idea is kind of left dangling.
There’s a fine line between clunky expository dialogue and muddled storytelling. Sadly, Habit leans towards the latter.
This brings us to the next problem with Habit. Just what exactly are ‘Uncle’ Ian and his clan of Cloud 9 flesheaters? There’s a fine line between clunky expository dialogue scenes and muddled storytelling. Sadly, Habit leans towards the latter. Without giving away anything more than necessary about the story, Halligan never establishes any clear motive or rationale for his characters’ actions, which serves the film’s mysterious build-up but ultimately undermines its climax.
Strong Performances Betrayed by a Half-Baked Climax
It’s not just the story that comes unraveled in the film’s climax. First, Habit has a completely perfunctory ending that will leave most viewers feeling dissatisfied. The climax fails to deliver any tension or emotional payoff; the film just kind of ends rather abruptly. I was actually caught off-guard when the credits starting rolling on the screen. Second, Habit’s characters come apart at the film’s conclusion. While Michael (Elliot James Landgridge) is intended to be somewhat of an antihero, his choices and inaction in the film’s climax leave him as pretty repellent character.
…Sally Carman turns in some impressive moments, eliciting a great deal of empathy with the small amount of screen time she’s given.
Everything else about Habit is very well done, which suggests there’s a lot of potential with the talent involved. All of the film’s performances are strong with Langridge (Michael) and Sally Carman (Mand) both standing out with their emotional work in Habit. In particular, Sally Carman turns in some impressive moments, eliciting a great deal of empathy with the small amount of screen time she’s given. Part of the credit should also go to a screenplay that fleshes out its characters.
Habit Ultimately Lacks Bite
As good as Habit is for the first hour or so, it completely turns on itself in the final act. Too many plot aspects and character motivations are left vague or undefined. What should have felt like a tense standoff in the climax instead unfolds with almost indifference. Michael’s character arc is also completely unsatisfactory. With so much obvious talent present for most of the film, the end result is disappointing to say the least. Habit is certainly worth watching – it’s too good for most of its running time to dismiss. I would just recommend tempering your expectations.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C