Larry Fessenden doesn’t look right. On the cover of the DVD he looks thick, prettied up. Alive. In Habit, Sam (Fessenden) is on death’s doorstep. His body is lank, his hair stringy, and he has a gap between his front teeth. Early on, Anna (his lover) bites his lip, and he goes through the rest of the film with a bleeding sore. The performance is a portrait of a man with a strained lifestyle.
Or maybe he was seduced by a vampire. Habit is ambiguous about Anna, the thick-browed girl who comes out at night, likes to bite, and disappears for long stretches of time. She’s pretty, like any girl you might try to pick up at a party is pretty.
That’s the main appeal of Habit: characters look and act like people you might talk with. Early on, Sam goes to a party where he meets the possibly undead Anna. People smoke hash and mill about; a crappy band plays to general disinterest. It looks like every party I’ve been to where, no matter how bad it is, you tell the host you had a good time.
Habit‘s power comes from the mundaneness of the story. Sloppy and haphazard, the plot suggests; everything that a lesser film would make explicit is revealed through implication. Indeed, Anna may be part of a group of vampires who live on a boat in the harbor where Sam’s father was killed. But Habit isn’t interested in plot. It’s interested in how the reality of such might affect the characters.
There is some gore, but Habit insinuates and disturbs. For me, the best scene is Sam’s speech at the memorial for his father. A professor of archaeology, his dad was more distinguished and articulate. Thus, fear of embarrassment, combined with the half-coherent speech, makes the scene particularly memorable.
The problem is the film’s low budget. Shot to look naturalistic, it fits the try at a “real” realism. But it robs the film of any visual uniqueness, since it amounts to the abandonment of visual style. The film walks a razor’s edge between the intriguing and the banal. More invention in the cinematography would have lifted it.
Habit works when it doesn’t try to reconcile genre expectations with reality. Often, the use of genre aspects is perfunctory and half-hearted. Here, it doesn’t matter if Anna is a vampire. What matters is that the character feels real. Since they are in a world as unremarkable as ours, the pain of the characters is all the more striking. When it focuses on things it believes in, Habit is good: Through the act of living their lives, the characters draw close to an abyss they cannot see, and once inside they will never be free.