Being Film #10 in Hail Horror 5. Thanks to J.D. at Radiator Heaven for the recommendation.
You ever keep hearing about someone, a director or a writer, someone that people keep telling you to check out, and you want to, only somehow it never seems to happen? And then when you finally do you can't understand what took you so long to do it?
Well, for me that's Larry Fessenden, and HABIT, his 1995 re-working of an independent video he shot back in 1982 is kind of an indie revelation. Fessenden wrote, directed, edited, and stars in HABIT as Sam, a lost soul in New York City - a witty, nice enough guy who unfortunately is so far down in the drink his entire life is a crumpled heap. All of this is communicated in a few short sequences as Sam arrives at his friend's Halloween party, "costumed" as a vagabond Cyrano de Bergerac. It's there that he meets Anna, a mysterious beautiful woman with who he shares an immediate attraction. She seems to come and go, leaving him after a party in the street but suddenly behind him a few days later at a street fair. Their first night together leaves Sam in a daze the next morning in a park, his lip bloody...
So is Anna a vampire or not? The incredible thing about HABIT is that it doesn't matter very much. There's certainly enough in the film to suggest it - Anna and Sam's love making in the park end with her sucking on his lip as he begins to go numb. Later he has visions of being chased by something in the air; he has a craving for rare meat, and the sight of a dead roach on the floor of the bar he manages almost puts him in a trance. Anna for her part doesn't make it easy. Played by Meredith Snaider (who played the same role in the 1982 version, as did Fessenden) with a cool understatement, Anna's only real power she uses over Sam is that she listens, and seems to care about him in a way he desperately needs. She's sensual and passionate, but her draw is not the typical vampire allure (she may be the only vampire in the history of cinema to buy her victim a barbecue), and it's one of the many things that stand out in the film.
But the real star of HABIT is Fessenden, who besides giving a remarkable performance as Sam but displays a very keen eye as a writer/director. The dialog and performances all around are very naturalistic and have an improvisatory feel. The cinematography is superb for such a low-budget feature: filmed on location in New York gives everything an authenticity lacking in other, larger budget pictures. There a dozens of little things that bring Sam's existence to life: from his enormous set of keys shown locking his door in the beginning of the film to shots of sinks filled to the brim with dirty dishes and change on tables. As Sam falls more under the spell of Anna, Fessenden begins slowly unraveling the world he so completely put together in the first hour of the movie. Clocks spin backwards, voices begin to echo. He doesn't know if he's hung over, sick, or just overly sensitive to light. Do we take him at his word? Or are these just more effects of his drinking? Fessenden keeps it ambiguous up to the end, and even then you can argue equally for both viewpoints.
So. A vampire movie that may or may not be about vampires at all, but is about those things we associate with vampires because we don't want to think about it in any kind of realistic fashion. And that's insatiable need, hunger...base desires more comfortably expressed creatures of the night. Fessenden knows this, and has crafted a genuine gem of a film.