Editor's Note: New Releases for Tuesday, May 29, 2018 are included at the bottom of this column.
Directed by: Simeon Halligan
Run time: 90 minutes
The Lowdown: Habit, the newest film from writer-director Simeon Halligan, is an amazing origin story for a new kind of creature to haunt our nightmares – blood cannibals, who possess a genetic disposition for subsisting on flesh.
Now, usually when critics say something is a slow-burn, they mean a film takes a little extra time to properly set the stage for events to come. Habit is a slow burn in the literal sense in that it truly takes its sweet time getting to the really good stuff, but at exactly the 44-minute-mark, Halligan lets loose with a proverbial bloodbath that genre fans are going to devour and crave for more.
Habit opens with an off-putting sequence. Two children are dropped off at a summer camp by their mother, who promptly sits in her car, pulls out a gun and shoots herself in the head.
Those children, Michael (Elliot James Langridge) and Mand (Sally Carman), once grown up, are still dealing with the devastation, a permanent black cloud from which they cannot escape.
Then, one day, Michael meets Lee (Jessica Barden, so good in The End of the Fucking World), an intoxicating waif who abruptly entwines herself in his life. Lee introduces Michael to her work “family” at a discreet massage parlor on the seedy side of Manchester, including her “uncle,” Ian, who sees something in Michael. One night, after witnessing an unexpected act of extreme violence, Ian offers Michael a job working the front door and looking after the bevy of beautiful young women who populate the parlor, taking care of clients. There’s one client, though – the enigmatic Grant, who receives special attention – that has taken a shine to Lee. Grant likes to play rough, really rough, which leaves Michael conflicted as to why he cares so much for this young woman and her odd lot of friends.
Halligan carefully cultivates this character-driven story in the first 40 minutes, fully immersing viewers in the culture and closed-off emotions that define the working-class city in northwest England.
When the switch happens, when Halligan throws off the curtain that’s been hiding the dark underbelly just beneath the world that’s been presented, it’s an awe-inspiring blast of genre brilliance that is rarely seen in movies today. You’re truly startled and then fascinated and finally enthralled.
As Ian says, whispering in Michael’s ear, “You’ve woken yourself up from a fucking awful nightmare.”
The second half of Habit is full-throttled thrill-ride of genre-defying conventions. Lee’s “family” is connected by a tether that goes beyond most familial bonds, and Halligan deftly shows that her tribe is everywhere, living openly in society but not explicitly. Their peculiar predilection is not something that can be shared.
Imagine if the monsters of Midian were able to walk undetected down any city street without fear.
Lee’s family has achieved this balance by making themselves integral to everyday life. They work behind the counter at the stores where people shop. They serve the drinks in every bar. They drive the taxis that people depend on to navigate the city.
As Ian explains, the family cares for society, feeds society, serves society – and then, when needed, society gives something very precious back in return.
That something once revealed is both erotic and terrifying as hell, and Halligan doesn’t hold back, regaling viewers with multiple orgies of blood and sex and feasting.
Habit feels like the first chapter in a longer story. Once the core characters have been established, it practically begs to be continued, to dive deeper into this Manchester subculture and trace its roots right to its pitch-black heart.
BVB can’t recommend this one enough.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Oh yes.
Nudity – Oh yes!
Gore – Oh, hell yes!
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – British mobsters and British cannibals. Why can’t we all just get along?
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Swung (Omnibus Entertainment, 88 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Swung makes the same mistake that every movie about swingers – polyamorous couples who consensually explore trading sex partners – is wont to do: The main couple comes off looking ridiculously uptight while the freaks, the people who knowingly pursue casual, consensual hook-ups, come off as relatively normal and thoroughly stable.
Swung is the story of Alice and David.
Alice (Elena Anaya) is a loving, adventurous woman who only wants to please David (Owen McDonnell), who has been experiencing some serious limp-dick since exiting his previous marriage and hooking up with Alice.
David is complete twat who seems incapable of simply being a decent human, no matter how hard Alice tries. When she starts exploring a story at the lifestyles magazine where she works about swinging, Alice sees potential for a cure for David’s dysfunction. She enlists him to join her in meeting couples who believe they benefit from extramarital proclivities. You know exactly where this is going. David shows his ass – not literally – by balking at the arrangement and ruining everybody’s good-time-fun. Not once, not twice, but over and over.
He upends two encounters with two couples who appear genuinely nice and harmless. He completely ruins a huge orgy. He even messes up Alice’s efforts to share with him a very personal (and should-be wonderful) secret.
In short, David is the typical male movie character who can’t handle, much less fathom, why it might be a good idea to follow his lady’s lead and keep his mouth shut.
The reason why it’s so disappointing is that Swung is very much an interesting film about an interesting topic, told with ambition and eroticism, by first-time feature director Colin Kennedy. What Kennedy loses by way of his main character being a complete jackass, he more than makes up for with a series of erotic parties that are high in style and imagery.
Swung is fitful, but for fans of well-done erotica, it’s worth fast-forwarding through the David and Alice parts to just watch the scenes inside the fetish parties. That’s where the film definitely shines.
Red Sparrow (Fox, 140 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): When Red Sparrow, the Jennifer Lawrence-as-Russian sexbot-cum-spy thriller was first teased, I feared that this might somehow eclipse the long-rumored origin film about Black Widow, aka Natalia Alianovna Romanova, from Marvel Studios.
After all, Red Sparrow, at least in its trailers, appeared to pull from Romanova’s comic’s background – a young Russian girl raised and trained at a secret facility to be both a spy and an assassin.
Upon viewing the film, however, those fears went away pretty fast.
Despite a decent creative pedigree – director Francis Lawrence has done some really good work in the past with Constantine and I Am Legend, plus he has history with Lawrence from The Hunger Games – Red Sparrow just never takes flight, no matter how many times we get to watch Lawrence in full femme fatale mode and even baring some considerable skin.
The pacing, the plot, the back and forth with Joel Edgerton’s American spy, none of it adds any Ooomph! to what’s an otherwise ordinary and pedestrian paint-by-numbers spook-show.
Jurassic Park: 25th Anniversary Collection (Universal, 474 minutes, PG-13, 4K Ultra HD): Four films, ranging from the 1993 classic to 2015’s reboot, upgraded to stunning 4K Ultra high-definition, just in time for the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom?
Take my money!
Go on, just take it all!
Game Night (Warner Bros., 100 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Game Night, a high-concept comedy from the guys who tried (and failed) to remake Vacation, should be funnier and much more subversive than it is.
After all, it’s got an A-list pedigree in stars Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons and Michael C. Hall, and it’s packed with quirky portrayals and unexpected twists.
But the film can’t decide what exactly it wants to be – a family dramedy about a man-child husband who fears settling down as a father, a murder-mystery-comedy a la Clue or a straight-up blood-and-bullets thriller.
With so much uncertainty, Game Night, though watchable, never rises to the challenge to meet audience expectations.
Negative (Monarch Home Entertainment, 99 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A regular guy out for a stroll takes some photos at a public park. Hours later, a foreign government spy shows up at his door, demanding the picture and any negatives. Then a bunch of really bad military guns-for-hire show up. The spy and the regular guy take off on the lam, doing whatever it takes to stay alive.
Negative has all the hallmarks of a classic spy thriller without any of the tension, excitement and uncertainty, making it an unfortunate casualty in a genre packed with better titles to choose from.
Of Unknown Origin (Shout! Factory, 89 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Italian director George P. Cosmatos was a big, big deal in the 1980s-and-90s action genre, having helmed Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cobra and Tombstone before pretty much disappearing from the industry until his death in 2005.
This early entry on his resume, the man-versus-nature horror thriller Of Unknown Origin, which came out two years before Rambo in 1983, benefits from a wonderfully loopy performance by lead Peter Weller as a corporate climber who refurbishes the brownstone where he lives with his super-sexy wife (Shannon Tweed) and son, only to discover while his family is on vacation that a resilient and resourceful rat has taken up residence inside his walls.
Cosmatos is successful in turning a single rat into a formidable foe, even as the film threatens to spiral into Saturday matinee, creature feature camp, when the rat seems to grow exponentially for the several direct confrontation scenes with Weller. If you’ve never seen this little genre gem, now’s the time.
The 15:17 to Paris
The Bloodthirsty Trilogy
Death Smiles on a Murderer
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Singles Collection
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Troll Inc. (Content Farm, 80 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Online, anonymous dissidents and agitators have become the norm in 2018. The people who exist to stir up trouble, to court and conjure controversy, to swap public opinion and rile up normal folks into a lather. They’re called trolls, and Troll Inc. does a pretty solid job of explaining, and showing, why rational, level-headed, peace-loving people should be very, very afraid of the damage they can cause with a social media account and a few carefully coordinated words and keystrokes.
Soft Matter (Wild Eye Releasing, 73 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Soft Matter, the debut feature from Jim Hickcox, is a weird movie. Like WTF-level strange.
Clocking in at just over an hour, Soft Matter thrusts viewers into a dual narrative that careens off-track quickly and inexplicably. You’ve got two street artists seeking a place to develop an art installation. And you’ve got two over-caffeinated scientists working in a clandestine laboratory where all manner of bizarre experiments and otherworldly creatures are cultivated.
Soft Matter makes zero sense. It refuses to conform to traditional narrative structures. But it’s fascinating in a way that is difficult to explain, except to lovers of so-bad-but-so-good cinema who live for this particular brand of unmoored, stream-of-conscious entertainment.
Not to be Overlooked: New Releases for Tuesday, May 29, 2018:
Annihilation (Paramount, 115 minutes, R, 4K Ultra HD): Not only is Alex Garland’s follow-up to his remarkable Ex Machina even more visually stunning and visionary in its scope, Annihilation is one of the best movies of the year so far in 2018. And, if you have yet to make the plunge, it's also a damn good excuse to go out and purchase a 4K Ultra HD-compatible smart TV. This is the kind of hallucinatory kaleidoscope that was meant to be viewed in the crispest, sharpest resolution possible. Check out BVB’s review for Creative Loafing Tampa Bay right here.
Jackass TV and Movie Collection (Paramount, 979 minutes, Unrated, DVD): I’m pretty sure once the fires have quelled and the rioting has subsided, after the current administration has laid waste to America as we know it, and we’re busy scrabbling to dig ourselves out of the rubble, somewhere, in the not-so-distant future, someone will unearth the Jackass TV and Movie Collection and watch it and think, ‘Wow, what a primitive species this was, but it is funny.’ No one should watch this much mindlessly juvenile programming in one sitting, but the Jackass franchise is nothing if not enduring. For nearly two decades, we’ve watched in horror, admiration and astonishment as Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera and their ever-evolving staple of class clowns and king idiots do terrible things to one another and their bodies purely to make viewers chuckle. Here, for the first, all seven (!?!) feature films and the original classic show are combined together. Lord help us.
The Violence Movie (MVD Visual, 35 minutes, Unrated, DVD): DIY horror never gets old. Take this classic short film, inspired by the great slashers of the ‘80s heyday. In 1988, brothers Eric and David Wilkinson, armed with a home camcorder, set out to make an homage to the gory greats of their formative years. There’s an escaped lunatic, a resourceful boy home alone and a lot of atmospheric sound and visual cues. Best of all, Harry Manfredini provided the score. If you love truly authentic home-grown efforts, The Violence Movie, which comes packaged with the sequel that nobody asked for, is well worth your time.