Habit is a cru­cial film in Larry Fessenden’s fil­mog­ra­phy. This hybrid of down­town NYC indie dra­ma and vam­pire lore helped him make his first steps out of the under­ground and into the high­er-vis­i­bil­i­ty end of the inde­pen­dent film scene. It’s worth not­ing that Fessenden plays the film’s pro­tag­o­nist and is in almost every scene so one could argue his well-received work as an actor here made his sub­se­quent act­ing side-career pos­si­ble. It’s a typ­i­cal­ly per­son­al and uncom­pro­mis­ing work for this film­mak­er that remains inter­est­ing for both seri­ous indie film peo­ple and adven­tur­ous hor­ror fans.

Habit-posThis film begins like many a NYC indie dra­ma from the ‘90s: Sam (Fessenden) is a 30-some­thing bohemi­an who is reel­ing from the recent pass­ing of his father and the fact that his girl­friend Liza (Heather Woodbury) has decid­ed to move out in protest over his hard-par­ty­ing ways. He seems to hit the rebound when he meets the mys­te­ri­ous but allur­ing Anna (Meredith Snaider) at a Halloween par­ty. The two begin a courtship that is excit­ing at first but soon begins to take a toll on Sam, who finds him­self grow­ing weak­er as Anna become more elu­sive and preda­to­ry (she likes to bite him dur­ing sex). He begins to won­der if she is a vam­pire but must also ask him­self if his own grasp on real­i­ty is slip­ping.

For the first 20 or 30 min­utes, you could con­fuse Habit with a con­ven­tion­al indie dra­ma: Fessenden goes for an episod­ic sto­ry­line with dreamy pac­ing and a qua­si-impro­vi­sa­tion­al approach to the dia­logue and per­for­mances. He weaves in the vam­pire ele­ments sub­tly and makes it pos­si­ble for the view­er to inter­pret theHabit-01 film as either a psy­cho­log­i­cal dra­ma or a hor­ror film. One could argue that with its ram­bling plot and loose, impro­vi­sa­tion style, it’s also a fore­run­ner of mum­blecore cin­e­ma and thus an impor­tant influ­ence on the mum­blecore-style hor­rors of recent vin­tage.

The film’s loose struc­ture might lose some view­ers — at near­ly two hours, it’s Fessenden’s longest fea­ture — but he cap­tures New York City’s art­sy side with a lived-in sense of detail. The film is also visu­al­ly impres­sive, with excel­lent hand­held cam­era work and peri­od­ic bursts of baro­que style, includ­ing a mem­o­rableHabit-02 night­mare sequence and a sul­try love scene atop an apart­ment build­ing. Most impor­tant­ly, Fessenden gives a fear­less per­for­mance as a man with a crum­bling psy­che and one-shot film actress Snaider match­es him with a sly, enthralling per­for­mance as an androg­y­nous art-scene dream girl who has a gen­uine­ly creepy dark side.

In short, Habit is a demand­ing but worth­while piece of work and shows the skill for blend­ing indie dra­ma and hor­ror ele­ments that would real­ly pay off for Fessenden in Wendigo and The Last Winter.

Blu-Ray NotHabit-03es: This film was issued on blu-ray by Scream Factory as part of The Larry Fessenden col­lec­tion. The new high-def trans­fer presents the film in its orig­i­nal 1.33:1 ratio and the results retain the grit of the film’s 16mm look while height­en­ing the detail and the col­ors (the night­mare scene is par­tic­u­lar­ly vivid in this regard). Both 5.1 and 2.0 loss­less stereo tracks are includ­ed: the 5.1 track was used for this review and it’s pret­ty sub­tle but does solid work with the score and the ever-present city sounds.

Plenty of extras flesh out this disc. Fessenden kicks things off with a solo com­men­tary track. He offers a run­ning analy­sis of the sto­ry along with plen­ti­ful scene-speci­fic tales of how he got the loca­tions, the real life NYC char­ac­ters he got into the film and the challeHabit-04nges in cap­tur­ing (and par­tic­i­pat­ing in) the film’s frank sex­u­al­i­ty. It’s great lis­ten­ing for indie-mind­ed film­mak­ers.

A mak­ing-of piece made by Fessenden runs about 24 min­utes. It’s a high­ly struc­tured look at the film from all angles, cov­er­ing its gen­e­sis as a stu­dent short at NYU and explor­ing how he sought to rein­ter­pret the hor­ror gen­re from a nat­u­ral­is­tic view­point. Along the way, he shares some inter­est­ing thoughts on the film’s nude sce­nes, the spe­cial effects and his dis­tri­b­u­tion chal­lenges. “Save You From Yourself” is a music video for the film’s title song that mix­es film clips with per­for­mance footage and is sur­pris­ing­ly light­heart­ed given the film that inspired it.

The film’s trLarFesC-bluail­er is includ­ed and it’s a skill­ful­ly cut spot that plays up the film’s strong crit­i­cal notices. You also get the stu­dent video project ver­sion of Habit: it runs about 18 min­utes and is a raw expres­sion of artsi­ness, filled with loose improvs and jagged edit­ing. Fans will want to see it because it has a num­ber of key moments that Fessenden would lat­er rework for the fea­ture ver­sion. A six-min­ute mak­ing-of piece is includ­ed for the short and it’s essen­tial­ly a send-up of mak­ing-of docs, com­plete with plen­ty of between-takes goof­ing.

A few bonus projects wrap things out. “Frankenstein Cannot Be Stopped” is a Fessenden-direct­ed music video that fea­tures plen­ty of Universal-style Frankenstein imagery, includ­ing a lit­tle stop-motion ani­ma­tion. “N Is For Nexus” is a short Fessenden made for The ABC’s Of Death and it’s a taut lit­tle nar­ra­tive with kinet­ic pho­tog­ra­phy and a macabre punch­line. A four-min­ute mak­ing of is includ­ed for “Nexus” and it’s a mon­tage of on-set footage with plen­ty of the direc­tor at work.