Habit Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Not a Number
Directed by Simeon Halligan
Written by Simeon Halligan (screenwriter), Stephen McGeagh (original novel)
2017, 96 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Released on 29th June 2018
Jessica Barden as Lee
Roxanne Pallett as Alex
William Ash as Ian
Sally Carman as Ash
At a chance meeting down the dole office, jobless slacker Michael bumps into lovely Lee, a manic pixie dream girl type who pulls him from his grimy existence into a different world and a different kind of grimy existence, working as a doorman at a dodgy massage parlour in the Manchester underworld. There Michael finds a family of sorts, amidst the ahem, ‘masseuses’ and gangster types. There’s more to this world than sensual ‘massages’ and dodgy deals though, and his newfound pals are hiding a dark secret, one which threatens to envelop Michael and Lee, and turn their budding relationship into ashes. There are no Happy Endings at this massage parlour.
Simeon Halligan's Habit is a film of two halves; part grubby British kitchen sink drama, part grubby British crime drama with a genre twist. It’s not until the halfway mark that the exact subgenre there becomes clear, and Halligan plays a long game with it, keeping the film’s true nature hidden for as long as he can manage. It pays off too, as that first half is a genuinely intriguing work of Brit soap opera which one feels could genuinely go anywhere, taking its characters with it into some truly dark places. The presence of actress Jessica Barden as Lee enhances this feeling, fresh from the excellent, unpredictable The End of the F**ng World.
Unfortunately - as dictated by Stephen McGeagh's source novel - Halligan chooses to go where a thousand Creative Writing 101 courses could have warned him not to, with one of genre cinema’s most overdone clichés, headlong into a storyline most short story anthologies have specific rules against… and for good reason. The film commits to this twist organically and with more internal logic than most, but it’s still a disappointment. Here, Habit takes a sudden sharp, steep decline in quality, its very good first half discarded in favour of boring gangster action, loosely defined rules and silly shlock.
Habit could have been something special. It boasts an excellent cast, made up of familiar faces but not lumbered with a distraction like Danny Dyer, Billy Murray or the countless other cockney hardmen who used to populate this sort of thing. Barden steals the show, but she’s oddly underused, as are most of the other talented actresses in the film.
Halligan is undeniably talented enough to keep him from the queue at the dole office, but he overextends himself here. While Habit does low-budget British melodrama and comedy very well, it struggles with everything else; its gangsters aren’t menacing, its gore is unconvincing and scenes which are meant to be erotic are dull and uninspiring. Roxanne Pallett appears as ‘masseuse’ Alex, but her time in the profoundly incompetent Lake Placid 3 and Wrong Turn 6 was kinkier than this, a film literally set in an ahem, ‘massage parlour’. Go hard or go home, guys.
Were it not for the calibre of its cast and its strong setup, Habit wouldn’t hurt so badly. But when it’s good, it’s really good, with a heart-breaking performance from actress Sally Carman, and great use of the streets and nightclubs of Manchester. But when it’s bad, it’s bad enough to make you forget how good it ever was, devolving into dumb shootouts, mismatched genre affectations and cardboard cut-out gangsters attempting to look scary. It’s depressing, and not in the intended way.