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Film Review: “Habitual,” While Psychedelic in Concept, Is Lackluster in Execution

Written by: Adam Vaughn | November 12th, 2020

Film poster: “Habitual”

Habitual (Johnny Hickey, 2019) 1½ out of 4 stars.

For about the first five to ten minutes of the film, I was truly under the impression that Habitual was leading to a brilliant, abstract work of horror. The established concept behind the film promised a great deal of terror, violent moments and a clever implementation of the theme of drug abuse and the dangers of overdosing. However, what Habitual has in content, it severely lacks in production value and attention to design, making the film inevitably a B-movie that feels thrown together.

Habitual tells the tale of a group of drug-addicted teenagers preparing for a well-anticipated rave party taking place at an abandoned asylum. While preparing for said rave, the teens come into possession of an experimental drug that promises to take them on the ultimate “trip” as they enjoy their excursion. However, what begins as a fun night swiftly turns to a night of terror, and bloody execution from a hidden menace that lurks in the halls of the abandoned mental institution.

Ally Doody in HABITUAL ©Johnny Hickey

After the first few shots of Habitual, it becomes clear that the cinematography and lighting are poorly designed, instantly creating a student aesthetic and removing the viewer from the reality of the scene. The overall establishment of the plot comes with a considerable amount of confusion, involving an untimely (and nonsensical) death of what was to be a main, pertinent character to the film. The majority of the remaining protagonists, both male and female, tend to blend together, having little to no dynamics that make them unique (save for a few small unique differences that don’t necessarily make a huge impact). This unfortunate combination of poor visual design and even poorer mise-en-scène severely flattens the beginning of Habitual, while director/lead actor Johnny Hickey attempts to establish an otherwise interesting and anticipated premise.

My biggest hope for Habitual then lied in waiting to see how Hickey would approach the drugged-out asylum-rave-gone-wrong action of the film. What I found was a confusing and jumbled mix of abstract imagery, unnecessarily gory sequences, and a film that was both written and edited with the intention of disorienting the audience (which it did do!), but without the very-much-needed coherence to go with the frightening journey. Hickey pushes the psychedelic trip of this mysterious (and quite deadly) opiate drug to the absolute limit, and introduces an antagonist that, while creepy and compelling, never fully makes sense for the content of the film. What’s more, the continuous hectic and rushed pacing of the film does more to physically confuse the viewer than the intended “psychedelic journey” that Hickey clearly had in mind for this film.

Chris “CT” Tamburello in HABITUAL ©Johnny Hickey

The overall issue with Habitual is that it does not focus on a single, centralized premise and run with it. There are moments that suggest paranormal encounters that are never confirmed through the writing. The film is at its strongest when it explores the dangerous, seemingly real consequences of the teenagers overdosing on the drug, and I completely appreciate Hickey’s conclusion, both with a sense of surprise and admiration. As an overall work of cinema, however, the film loses sight of basic conventions, and if Habitual didn’t already fall apart by the time the viewer is given the promise of premise, it definitely becomes an incoherent cluster of thoughts by the time the horror film attempts to come full circle.

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Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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