Based on Stephen McGeagh’s debut novel, Habit follows Michael Bars, a jobless idler searching for meaning in his life. When he witnesses a bloody murder at Cloud Nine, a brothel hidden inside the dark backstreets of Salford, Greater Manchester, he soon finds himself forced into a warped world of organised crime, subterranean cults and flesh-eating orgies. Rapidly, the morality and rules that dictate Michael’s reality start to fade away as he becomes morbidly initiated into his new ‘family’.
While this twisted crime thriller’s key themes of sex and violence are as gratuitously weaved as the works of the Marquis de Sade and Clive Barker, the traditions of nihilism and transgressional fiction are the core of Habit’s narrative.
When Michael starts to feel physically and mentally empowered by his cannibalistic urges (like the pioneers in Ravenous), he’s assured that he’s “awake now” while the unenlightened are “still stuck in a nightmare drowning”. One character, Ian, justifies violence towards the civilian population by stating: “We feed them, we give them booze, we drive them around, we fuck them and, then, we take something back.” This dialogue, delivered with a Mancunian twang, is reminiscent of the anti-consumerist subcultures present in novels like Hubert Selby Jr.’s Requiem for a Dream and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. When the action doesn’t drive the plot, these anarchic philosophies give it some crucial structure and substance.
Habit is a frantic and fun 90-minute thriller, even if it can be underwhelming at its most unsettling. Still, director Simeon Halligan wonderfully captures the gritty underbelly of northern England in all its bleak and beautiful industrial splendour, while providing us with a putrid snapshot into a sordid, untold underworld.
Elliot James Langridge
Stephen McGeagh (novel)
29 Jun 2018