Credit: Lionsgate
by Steven Warner Featured Film Genre Views

Habit | Janell Shirtcliff

August 18, 2021

Habit sounds like fun, should be fun, wants to be fun; it’s more like Hell.

Bella Thorne plays a Los Angeles party girl who masquerades as a nun to escape violent drug dealers in Habit, a film so monumentally bad that it fucks up the premise of “Bella Thorne plays a Los Angeles party girl who masquerades as a nun to escape violent drug dealers.” There are any number of directions that such a movie could take; it’s not as if the premise itself is all that unique, as the existence of films like Nuns on the Run and Sister Act readily proves. The comedy essentially writes itself, offering up the obvious contradiction of secular individuals doing “bad” things and spewing vulgarities while pretending to be divine servants of God, and it’s been literal decades since the moviegoing public has been treated to such a low-brow spectacle, so the time seems ripe for a 21st-century update. And the casting of Bella Thorne is certainly inspired, as the social media star is better known for her perceived “bad behavior” and fuck-all attitude than her on-screen chops.

It’s against all odds, then, that director Janell Shirtcliff and writer/co-star Libby Mintz have managed to create an absolute atrocity of a film from the camp-ready setup, with all the build-in defenses such a situation offers. In fact, even calling this a “film” is generous; at only 80 minutes, Habit is nothing but a collection of scenes stitched together without a semblance of coherence. The plot, or what there is of one, fails to progress organically, stopping and starting whenever it’s necessary to establish one sordid tableau after another. This “mode” is so entire that one even begins to consider its possible intentionality, as each scene seems to exist solely to be shared on the likes of YouTube or Instagram, which would at least be an extension of the Bella brand the filmmakers are building their film upon. But offering or musing further on context is unnecessary as the film itself elucidates none, and it seems entirely unlikely that an actual script existed prior to filming, simply a premise, a star, and a handful of scenarios scribbled on some toilet paper. Examples: Thorne swears while wearing a habit; Thorne takes the Lord’s name in vain while wearing a habit; Thorne wears a wimple, sexy lingerie, and some go-go boots while swearing and taking the Lord’s name in vain in a habit; Thorne orgasmically exclaims, “They don’t know, but I’m fucking him. I’m fucking Jesus Christ!”; Thorne fucks a priest in a confessional; Thorne and her friends don habits while bursting into a room with guns, screaming, “It’s the God squad, bitches!”; Thorne decapitates a woman while wearing a habit; etc., in a habit. 

Put simply, Habit is an exercise in style that forgets it needs substance in order to make any sort of impact. If credit should be given to anyone, it’s production designer Robert Wise and costume designer Abigail Keever, who create an amalgam of stylistic choices ranging from the 1950s to today, combining ruffled panties, high-waisted pants, ironic T-shirts, and Hawaiian button-downs, while using a color palette of pastels, ‘70s-era burnished golds and burnt oranges, saturated primaries, and ‘90s day-glo rave aesthetics. Flip phones run rampant, and no car exists prior to those produced in 1974. It’s still part and parcel of the larger shit show, to be sure, but at least in this regard, it’s never less than an eye-pleasing one, one that mercifully, momentarily distractions from the foregrounded action. The film doesn’t even know what story it wants to tell, ping-ponging from the violent shenanigans of drug cartels to the broad comedy of Bella and friends pretending to be nuns to suddenly becoming a tale of drug addiction and personal redemption before eventually returning to over-the-top mayhem. A tonal mess if ever there was one, and that’s even before detailing how the murder of a child is kinda sorta played for laughs, or how Gavin Rossdale pops up as a drug-addicted former television star and sleeps with Thorne in a sex scene so nauseating that the whole child murder thing doesn’t seem so bad. And we still haven’t talked about how Ione Skye plays a wealthy, blind socialite with a blown-out up-do and cataract contact lenses. But if the detailing of these bizarre plot beats gives the impression that there’s any outlandish fun to be had here, don’t be fooled by such tempting thoughts; Habit is an interminable experience that will likely cause even the most devout to question the existence of God. All we can do is pray for the souls of everyone involved in this sacrilege of cinema. Amen.