Habit is director Larry Fessenden's unique take on the vampire genre. It places traditional vampire film elements into a New York setting and uses the story as a metaphor for dysfunctional relationships and disease. Much of the movie was shot on location, guerilla-style, with unpaid actors. These elements combine to create a feeling of realism, even as the film's subtle surreal touches suggest a breakdown in reality.
Sam, played by Fessenden, is at a Manhattan Halloween party when Anna keeps popping in and out of his field of vision. They leave together but get separated. He is in the middle of a downward slide, "suicide on the installment plan" he calls it. His father has just died, and his girlfriend has left him because of his drinking. Sam is kicking himself for losing Anna, and he can't find out who invited her. None of his friends seem to know her.
Since the night of the party, Sam's friend Lenny has been seeing a girl who lives on a boat, and he's looking terrible. Anna has a tendency to appear behind Sam from out of nowhere, and she reappears at a Little Italy street festival. They have an encounter, and he wakes up in the middle of the park with his pants half off and blood on his mouth. Lenny has meanwhile disappeared.
Anna has some odd qualities. She won't reveal personal details and never eats or drinks, and Sam's cat hates her. Sam is nevertheless attracted to her, not least of all because of her voracious sexual appetite, even if she is kind of bite-y. Anna is a vampire who uses the sex act as an opportunity to feed, and the sex and excitement that she provides entice Sam to stay with her. Sam is drained by this whirlwind, and he takes ill. Just in case it's not obvious that vampirism is used as a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease, the bite mark Anna leaves on Sam's lip is repeatedly referred to as herpes. Sam realizes that he looks the same as Lenny did, and makes the connection that Anna was the girl whom Lenny had been seeing.
Habit has a scuzzy, run-down look that fits the story of Sam's decline. Fessenden's toothless grin is testament to the dangers that exist on New York streets. He makes for a believable character and a very unconventional lead actor. Many of the film's supporting actors have only this one film credit, but they are mostly very good. Meredith Snaider's acting is not great, but she makes up for it with the courage to perform the movie's numerous sex scenes.
Habit drags toward the end, but it brings fresh ideas to a genre that can easily become stagnant. If it were merely a vampire film, it would be creepy and intelligent. If the sexual disease metaphor were its only subtext, it would still be unique. Its most brilliant move is the way it depicts a needy and demanding lover who literally sucks the life out of Sam. That's scary and, worse yet, she's a vampire.
Connections: Fessenden has his own take on the iconic "shadow hands" shot from Nosferatu.