Sunday, March 11, 2007

Habit (1997) – review


Director: Larry Fessenden

Release date: 1997

Contains spoilers

Habit is a remake of a 1980s film of the same name, by the same director. The brainchild of Larry Fessenden, who not only wrote and directed the films but also stars as lead character Sam. In some respects this movie may not find favour with certain viewers as it is character driven, rather than horror driven and some may find it slow. Personally I found myself drawn into the excellent characterisations and, generally, fantastic acting.

The film begins with Sam looking at some photos. He is in his recently deceased father’s apartment. He leaves to attend a Halloween party with his friends Nick (Aaron Beall) and Rae (Patricia Coleman). At the party he gets very drunk and meets Anna (Meredith Snaider). They leave together, but Sam has taken the wrong coat. Note the clawsHe turns to go back to the party and Anna tries to give him her number but he asks her to wait for him. The film does things subtly. We know it is Halloween and a hand is placed on Sam’s shoulder and we see long talon like nails that could be the hand of a costumed reveller. Sam turns and it is Anna but her hand is normal. Sam has not noticed but we have.

He retrieves his coat and bumps into Liza (Heather Woodbury). This is where I can illustrate the excellent dialogue and acting. They talk briefly and nothing is said concerning the fact that they are recently split up (which is covered later in the film) and yet we know; it is in the awkward dialogue and the mannerisms. This is what acting should be, things should not need to be spelt out if the acting is good enough.

Larry Fessenden as SamSam exits the party again, comment being made that he has left whilst he can see straight, but Anna has gone. He awakes on a subway train, where he has passed out and discovers he has been robbed by having his pocket cut. At home he goes to bed, not noticing that Anna had slipped him her number, which falls to the floor and then is knocked by the cat under the floorboards. He goes to work, in a bar/restaurant, and is talking to sound engineer Lenny. Kenny got lucky and ended up having sex with a girl on the poop deck of her boat.

Meredith Snaider as AnnaSam tries to search out Anna, but no-one knows her and Lenny, who is seeing his mysterious woman regularly, seems to get more and more ill. Eventually Lenny just vanishes and Sam, at a festival, bumps into Anna. They start a torrid affair that always seems to involve her biting him. His new relationship drives a wedge between Sam and Liza (who had separated rather than severing ties completely) and Sam seems to become more and more ill. Even when he works out what is happening no-one believes him.

waking in the parkThe vampirism is done sparingly, until it builds into a crescendo at the film’s climax. The first thing we see is Anna kissing Sam and, it appears, sucking at his lip. When he awakes in the park alone, in the morning, his lip is cut. Every time they have sex she bites him and, later, Sam admits that he liked it, despite himself. Anna tells him she wants to take a little at a time as she likes him, it is only towards the end that Sam realises what she means.

Anna stops the dogsOther subtle moments include Anna not wishing to enter the kitchen due to the stink. Sam assumes it is the litter tray but we get the hint that it is the garlic he is cooking. There is a moment in the Park where Anna points out a pack of dogs, and a connection with wolves is made. The dogs chase them and Anna stops. Holding out a hand, unseen by Sam, she causes them to end their chase.

The primal vampireAnna’s bites effect Sam profoundly. He not only becomes ill but his hearing seems sharper. At times she seems to talk to him when she is not there. On a trip to the country, when she is due to arrive the next day, a primal looking version of her visits him in his sleep and feeds, until a bell chimes. In the morning he has a wound on his abdomen. She is never seen during the day and never seen eating food.

part of a dream sequenceWe also get dream images. One sees Sam on a boat and we get many vampiric images through the sequence. Post the dream Sam finds the cat ripped apart, though there is a question as to whether Anna killed it or Sam did it himself – we never discover. The boat imagery also connects Anna to Lenny’s mysterious girl. Sam makes a connection but we are never explicitly told she was the same person.

The character of Sam is great as he is so fallibly human. He works in a low paid job as he has a nest egg left by his mother and so can concentrate on drinking. He is on a path of self destruction before Anna comes into his life, at one point he informs her, “Actually, I'm committing suicide on the installment plan.” It is stated that the split between him and Liza was due to his excessive drinking, there is a hint that he had a violent relationship with Rae in the past and he is scarred from when he used to cut himself. Fessenden’s performance (and script) makes the character totally believable.

Indeed most of the acting is good, though I felt Bealle’s performance as Nick was a little under par. That perhaps is unfair as the majority of his scenes were with Fessenden who was just so good.

Anna sits like a bird of preyThe film does leave aspects unanswered but this seems deliberate and plays with our expectations. For example, a friend of Sam’s father, Mr Lyons (Lon Waterford), leaves a message for Sam as he wants to speak to him about Anna. Lyons could well have become a Van Helsing type character but Sam doesn’t return the call. The film might leave things unanswered but, in the same respects, they are never major plot points and sometimes it answers these things subtly.

I should warn you that the film is gritty and downbeat and the ending follows the same pattern – a refreshing change.

I really enjoyed Habit and it just goes to show that with a great script and performance a film does not have to be big budget to be really good. To a degree it makes me want to see the original and then I think that perhaps it is best just to see this later version, as this is so good. 8.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


LoBo said...

I recently bought this film. I think it looks interesting.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

It's up there amongst my favourites Lobo, let me know what you make of it when you watch it.

LoBo said...

Ok, i will.

LoBo said...

I just saw this film. I must say i enjoyed it. I have never seen Vampire film like this before.

I think it was different in a good way. Also, i believe Anna was a Vampire. It was a good purchase. I was glad i bought it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Glad you enjoyed it Lobo. I too believe she was a vampire, possibly attracted to Sam because of his suicidal tendancies.

LoBo said...

Habit will be released on Blu-ray in this collection:
Too bad you have to pay for all the others movies if you just want Habit.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

also a pity that it may be region coded as I'd love to see the short of Habit

LoBo said...

Yes, seems like all of Shout/Scream Factory are region A locked. I am region free, so that's no problem for me.