2021, R, 81 min. Directed by Janell Shirtcliff. Starring Bella Thorne, Gavin Rossdale, Paris Jackson, Libby Mintz, Josie Ho.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Aug. 20, 2021
About 10 minutes into Janell Shirtcliff’s tedious shockarama, the far-from-addictive Habit, I inwardly yelled, “Yes, we get it, you’ve seen The Doom Generation!” But Gregg Araki’s transgressive master class in sleaze is 25 years old, and Habit feels worn out and derivative, from its worn-out antiheroines to its boilerplate amorality.
In her quest to put her studio-sanctioned “next big thing” tag behind her, Bella Thorne has done interesting work, as proven in bleak revenge drama Girl. Yet Habit’s diffident Mads feels like a misstep, a shallow-deep small-town Texas girl washed up in Los Angeles and partying with her equally listless and disinterested friends. All she does here is pout and undercut any actual drama through a baffling narration – actually her talking to Jesus, who she loves in a very carnal way. That may be why she convinces her friends to disguise themselves as nuns when they get on the wrong side of a faded TV star (Rossdale) and a gun-toting, snake-handling drug dealer, Queenie (Ho, who seems to think she’s in a mid-era John Waters movie and is way too extra for this).
Habit is so desperate to be edgy that it loops all the way back around to derivative, and wastes any potential Thorne might have brought to play. Sure, if you’re fascinated with the scummier, directionless fringes of L.A., Habit might appeal in the same morbid curiosity way as the meandering but fascinating failure of Under the Silver Lake. At least David Robert Mitchell’s mess was well-made. Aside from the cast all seeming that they were in different films, with constantly disconnecting performances (the only guidance seems to be “overact and be wooden at the same time”), the cinematography fails so often that it feels like someone forget to turn the filter off on their iPhone; and was half the cast busy during ADR? Maybe they just no-showed, because even decent sound wouldn’t save this sloppy, hackneyed attempt to revive drive-in “bad girls” exploitation cinema, with just enough religious symbolism to get the humorless Jesus freaks annoyed.