‘Habit’ Review: Models and Musicians Play Dress-Up in a Puerile Campfest
“Habit” stirred controversy (and a petition to block its release) last year when conservatives caught wind that Paris Jackson was cast as a female Jesus Christ in it, with a purported lesbian coupling adding to the blasphemous offense. Well, it turns out that was much ado about almost nothing: There is no such sex scene in the film’s release cut, if indeed there ever was, and Jackson’s appearance is little more than a silent cameo.
On the other hand, fears that Janell Shirtcliff’s debut feature “ridicules people of faith” are closer to the mark. For those viewers curious enough to investigate, however, what may truly offend about “Habit” isn’t any sacrilegious content so much as the fact that it’s so infantile in that regard — and every other. This candy-colored dress-up excuse for a bunch of slumming models, rock musicians and miscellaneous scenesters might be termed a “Bratz” version of “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,” but even that gives it too much credit. It’s an embarrassing vanity showcase that’s deliberately campy without actually being fun, and whose stalled-adolescent “transgression” may only appeal to a few actual adolescents. Otherwise, Lionsgate should lower expectations floorward for the Aug. 20 release to digital platforms, then to home video the following week.
Bella Thorne (like many performers here also credited as a producer) plays Mads, who’s fled Texas for the City of Angels. What she’s doing there is unclear, so let’s settle for the publicity materials’ description of her as a “street smart party girl.” Apparently that also represents the job descriptions for housemates Addy (Andreja Pejic) and Evie (Libby Mintz). They’re all in big trouble after a random boy toy absconds with the $20,000 they’d earned selling drugs at a club for Eric (Gavin Rossdale), which puts him in hot water with cartoonish crime boss Queenie (Josie Ho).
That’s about it for plot. “Habit” is much less concerned by such matters than it is with getting the cast in and out of as many sexy-Halloween-type costumes as possible, from your basic lingerie to the titular nun’s garb. (The leads’ adopting that last guise for reasons too dumb to mention makes “Sister Act” seem like neo-realism.) Though screenplay credit goes to Libby Mintz and director Shirtcliff, it’s hard to believe there was much of a shooting script, as some scenes feel poorly improvised, and the disconnected whole is patched together via telltale heavy use of voiceover narration.
With apologies to real actors who’ve transitioned from these fields, having a cast full of musicians (including two from the Kills as well as Bush’s Rossdale) and fashion models results in exactly the kind of scenester “let’s pretend” fooling around one might expect, recalling such past celluloid misfortunes as “Straight to Hell” and “Renaldo and Clara.” Whenever the film fleetingly tries to get serious about being woke or something else, that content is shoehorned in as clumsily as possible.
There is certainly no attempt to be serious about the religious frills, which stall out at nun drag and Mads’ fetish about Jesus, whom she frequently “talks to” in apparent expression of snarky humor rather than actual belief. (She does have brief sex with a hunky priest, played by ex-model Aaron Diaz.) It’s hard to take real umbrage at “Habit” as an assault on faith when its sarcasm is so juvenile — “Oh my gawd religion is like so dumb LOL, pass the eyeliner” might sum up the level of critique here. The heroine’s vision of Jackson as a mute “J.C.” occurs while she’s recovering from an overdose in a hospital bed. That drive-by deployment of heroin chic as yet another “edgy” posture is arguably more galling than this alleged deity’s blank, blurry visitation.
Not quite making it to the 75-minute mark before closing credits kick in, “Habit” no doubt represents a heroic salvage job on the part of editor Bradinn French, who at least keeps the barely there narrative moving at a fairly brisk pace. There is some garish eye-candy appeal to the design contributions, with DP Rain Li’s imagery heavy on loud pastels, making the film resemble a basket of boiled sweets. Likewise helping it seem less aimless and amateurish is a busy soundtrack of decent new compositions, plus oldies by Billy Idol, Duran Duran and such.
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