The Habit, by Simeon Halligan, is a unique film set in gloomy Manchester. It’s based on a novel by Stephen McGeach and we gobbled it up it on Amazon Prime.
After a childhood trauma, two siblings respond in two different ways. Michael (played by Elliot Langridge) grows up to be a dropout, sharing a Manchester flat with his obnoxious man-child of a best friend. Sister Mand (played by Sally Carman) ends up with a good job, which means she can look after Michael, but suffers from depression and bouts of anger.
The story begins in earnest when a young benefits-seeker called Lee (played by the formidable Jessica Barden) takes a shine to Michael. She gets him a job at her uncle’s massage parlour, which is obviously a front for a brothel, and less obviously home to a cult of cannibals. Michael joins the cult but runs into trouble (and an exciting third act) when he attracts the ire of a local gang.
“Cult of cannibals” doesn’t do the concept justice, and Habit is far deeper than it sounds. The backdrop of the film is a secret society of man-eaters, with the brothel being one small branch of a much bigger network. Uncle Ian (played by William Ash) recruits our hero in a Manchester pub, evangelising the joys of cannibalism in a way that doesn’t seem altogether human.
In fact, it isn’t clear whether they’re just cannibals or maybe something more. Throughout the film, we see hints of a deeper mythology. Are they a man-eating version of the Masons, or maybe more like vampires? I was engrossed and confused by my feelings for them, because they end up (in narrative terms at least) taking the role of the good guys. I’m not sure I was meant to be rooting for them, but I certainly did do, despite my better judgement (although I have to say, the dénouement of the brother-sister subplot gave me pause for thought). It’s a testament to the film’s cleverness that it feels odd to call them “cannibals”, even though we see them killing and eating others.
In production terms, there’s nothing to fault. The presentation of Manchester is relentlessly drab, which isn’t normally to my taste, but some of the brothel scenes add a splash of seedy glamour. Together, the visuals and story simply work. The practical effects for the gore are done well and used sparingly. My admiration for the film is primarily based on the story and characters, but it’s also a very well-made package.
I rate this film very highly, and fully expect it to be in the running for my inevitable “Top Ten of 21st Century British Horror”. I fell in love with the characters and mythology of the film, and it’s one that lingered in my thoughts long after it finished. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s apparently free to watch on Grimmfest TV. Enjoy!