Habit (1995) d. Fessenden, Larry (USA)
The vampire of legend is eternal, and his cinematic brethren are equally durable and widespread. Even before the post-millennial pop culture phenomena of Twilight and True Blood (among others) but especially in their wake, it’s always been refreshing and rewarding to encounter an undead feature possessing a genuinely grounded and unique interpretation. Sam (played by writer/director Fessenden) is introduced recovering from the sudden death of his archeologist father, but it’s clear that life has not been going well for a long time. His longtime girlfriend Liza (renowned solo artist Heather Woodbury), troubled by his general aimlessness, has recently moved out. He has few interests or friends; those that he does have, like Rae and Nick (Patricia Coleman, Aaron Beall), cluck disapprovingly behind his back.
Into this bleak existence enters Anna (Meredith Snaider, magnetic and sensual in her only screen role), a classy and together mystery gal who sets her unassailable gaze on Sam during a Halloween party. Before long, the two are enjoying public sexual assignations, encounters that end with him alone—bewildered and bleeding—come the morning sun. As their relationship blooms, our hero grows more sickly and wan, leading him to wonder about his paramour’s true nature.
What is Habit really about? Vampires? Alcoholism? Addiction? Urban disconnectedness? The oppressive, nameless fears of metropolitan life? Sex? Disease? Or is it about Mars, Venus and the great chasm between the sexes? The answer is yes to all of these and more.
The script is wildly ambitious, with wolves running loose in Central Park, a shattered fire hydrant showering an auto accident’s aftermath, late night strolls passing racy photography shoots (a restaging of Nelson Bakerman’s Wall Street Nude Project), etc. The film possesses a modern timelessness (excepting the diner scene’s giant mobile phone), more concerned with character than plot. Some might complain about the leisurely pace, about whether we really need to see Sam cleaning out the litter box or pour his two cups of coffee into a saucepan for reheating, but each scene has its rewards, especially upon repeat viewings. If there is a scene that deserves excision, it’s the unnecessary third-act confrontation between Sam and Nick, lousy with on-the-nose discussions of whether or not Anna is a vampire (the only time the word is used) and needless exposition about Sam’s financial status. It’s a rare misstep, but it’s a doozy.
In the nearly two decades since Habit’s release, Fessenden has established himself as a proud independent godfather of sorts, his company Glass Eye Pix fostering such rising talents as Ti West (The Innkeepers), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), James Felix McKenney (Satan Hates You) and Jim Mickle (Stake Land). He continues to direct (Wendigo, The Last Winter, Beneath) and act (lending his memorable mug to four to five screen roles each year), and seems content to thrive outside the Tinseltown web of wheeler dealers. Long may his indomitable spirit thrive, trumping high throttle studio machinery with the power of a simple story well told.