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Confessions of a Cinephile – Habitual (2019) – Review

Column by David Garrett

  • Film: Habitual
  • Year: 2019
  • Director: Johnny Hickey
  • Writer: Johnny Hickey
  • Starring: Stanley Bruno, Emilee Fitzpatrick and Jaylee Hickey

Review:

This was a movie that got onto my radar when the writer/director of Johnny Hickey hit me up on my Instagram page for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. I believe this movie was released in 2020 and I wanted to see it then, but the price tag was a bit high. I did end up renting this on Amazon Prime Video and still wanted to support Hickey, since he is an independent filmmaker. I’ve also seen his feature film debut, enjoyed that and figured since this movie was more into horror than that one, it would be more up my alley. The synopsis here is a fistful of drug popping ravers and an insane mental patient take a hell bent trip to an underground rave party called ‘The Habit’ that is being held in an abandoned lunatic asylum in Salem, Massachusetts.

For this movie, we start the night of the rave. A security guard shows up and is asked to make sure no one who shouldn’t be there are in the abandoned buildings. He is then attacked by something through his window, setting the tone for the movie.

We then shift 24 hours into the past. There is a small rave going on in a bar. The owner of Brett Mitchell (Chris ‘C.T.’ Tamburello) shows up. His bouncers inform him they’re losing money on this party due to someone selling drugs inside and no one is buying alcohol. This guy is Blake (Stanley Bruno). He’s taken and roughed up with Brett taking his drugs in the process.

From here we also see word is going around about a secret rave called The Habit. It is going to be happening at a local abandoned mental hospital as the synopsis stated. The person behind the planning is Naomi (Sabrina Kennedy). Going to this are Blake, Brittany (Emilee Fitzpatrick), Riley (Jaylee Hickey) and Rob (Anthony Hoang) just to name a few. Blake is upset that Brett took his drugs and they see an opportunity to get them back as Riley babysits Brett’s daughter so they learn his address.

Brett also goes to visit Simon (Johnny Hickey). He’s off his medication and being held in a psyche ward of a hospital. Brett is concerned for him and listens to Simon’s ravings. He is talking about a drug that messed a lot of people up and it is still at this abandoned mental hospital. This got me wondering if this is what happened to Simon. Brett can’t take it, but still is trying to be a good friend. Simon does state that he will see Brett tomorrow as he is getting out.

Things get a bit weird when the friends visit Brittany. She can read tarot cards and do spirit writing. She uses the latter that causes her to have horrible visions of something bad happening to her and the word ‘Blight’. We also get another of the group doing research into the place the rave is being held and they learn of an entity called The Blight. He looks like a plague doctor and residents there saw him. They were also being given experimental drugs, so no one knows if this person was real or not.

Naomi goes to scope the place out. While there she finds a powder that is being held like a drug. She thinks it could be ecstasy and sells it to Blake. Him and his friends take it before heading in. This trip becomes a nightmare they weren’t expecting as they get lost and start seeing this Blight entity. Is it real or just a figment of their trip?

That is where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie. Where I want to start is first commending Hickey. This movie looks really good. I normally start with the story, but I love the location that was used here. It is creepy and fits the vibe that they’re going for. I could see a rave like we see here being held in a place like this. I’ve lived a good portion of my life growing up in the country, so seeing a party held like this brings back nostalgia. We didn’t have abandoned mental hospitals or have raves, but we had barns and backfields where we never had to worry about getting busted so there is that.

Next would be the parts of the story itself that I like. This entity of The Blight is cool to me. I love the design here by making it look like a plague doctor from the past. The movie is interesting in giving us the back-story through a character looking up the place online and then stumbling into it. It really works for me. I also like that Simon gives us back-story as well. He’s crazy, so we can’t believe him as an unreliable narrator so that makes it even better. He is right about some of what he’s saying.

Simon is also problematic for me here. I don’t think his story fits into what we get for most of the movie. This movie goes heavy handed with its anti-drug message. I agree that it is a problem. I’m glad this movie is doing what it can to bring it more to the light, but I just wish it could have been a bit more subtle for it to work better. I enjoy the allegory of what we’re seeing as to what the reality is. It comes back to the fact though that I don’t understand how this Simon story arch fits in as opposed to what we get.

Since I’ve said how much like the look, I want to go the effects. I won’t spoil who plays The Blight, but I think it is smart. They do a great job with making it look creepy. There is some good use of blood, including the color and consistency. I like the contacts that are used to make the eyes glow. There are some good practical effects as well with some of the attack scenes that I enjoyed. What I do have an issue here with though is the CGI. We don’t get a lot, but there is some with blood splatter that didn’t look great. To move this back to a positive though, I like the cinematography to simulate what the drug is making people see. I’ve never used drugs like this, but it makes me think this is what it could look like.

Next I want to shift this over to the acting. I’d say for the most part it is solid. Bruno feels like this shady Blake character. It is funny to see Fitzpatrick as she is from The Real World on MTV. I like the character she is playing and we see her in her underwear if you are curious to see that. Another Real World alum is Tamburello. I’m a big fan of him and he is probably the best performance here. Johnny Hickey also does well as this crazy guy. Aside from that, everyone else is fine. The women are pretty attractive and we see them in different states of undress. No one is nude, just a warning.

Then really the last thing I want to go over would be the sound design and soundtrack. The former I think they do some good things with it. I like slowing down of speech or distorting it when people are high. It makes me think this is what it would be like. Aside from that, the music works and fits for what we’re seeing from the attack scenes to the rave.

In conclusion here, I think that this is a well made movie for an independent film. There is a good message here and I think it is creative in its use of allegory there. I just think there are some parts that don’t fit into what they’re doing here aside from giving us back-story. The movie also goes a bit too heavy handed with its message. The acting works for what I needed. The practical effects were all good, but I did have some issues with the CGI. I’d also commend the cinematography, soundtrack and sound design. I would say for me this is an above average movie in my opinion. I’d recommend giving it a viewing if what I’ve said here works for you as well as it is worth it.

My Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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