Last night marked the shocktastic return of Grimmfest – Manchester’s celebrated annual horror and fantasy festival. Now in its ninth year, the organisers decided to keep things very much close to home with the opening night gala film. Set within the shadowy, neon-drenched streets of the host city, Habit is the screen adaptation of author Stephen McGeagh’s disturbing portrayal of a very extreme form of addition.
Prior to the screening, we managed to grab some time with the film’s lead (Northern Soul’s Elliot James Langridge), his co-star Sally Carman, and both McGeagh and director/scriptwriter, Simeon Halligan,
This is your third feature-length horror [following 2014’s White Settlers and 2010’s Splintered]. What keeps drawing you back to the genre?
I’ve always loved fantasy films since I was a little kid, whether it be horror or sci-fi. I remember being around the age of ten and nagging my parents to let me staying up to watch the horror double bills which used to screen on BBC2.
I think cinema is the perfect place to explore fantastical ideas and dark worlds. Habit, in itself, is not a straight horror film. It’s more a coming-of-age drama with horror elements. It’s very character-based, and isn’t your conventional shock and suspense horror movie.
How did you discover Stephen’s book?
I think someone mentioned it to me. I read it and liked it very much. I talked for a long time with the author about turning the book into a film. I did find the screenwriting process a challenge as I’d never adapted a book before.
Some things work on the page that don’t on the screen, so it was a process to try and figure things out. For instance, a character crops up at the end of the book, but we needed to seed him into the film earlier on for the audience.
Where did your idea for the book originate from?
I enjoyed writing alongside my regular jobs, but in order to get something down properly, I decided that I needed more focus. In 2008, I took out a massive bank loan and enrolled on the writing school course at Manchester Metropolitan University, doing an MA in Creative Writing.
The focus of being in a group there and having published authors as tutors helped me shape the ideas that I already had in the form of short stories, and turn them into what ultimately became Habit. I don’t think I would have be able to force the book out of me without being in that learning environment.
The book was published in 2012. When did discover that there was some interest in adapting it into a feature film?
Not quite sure of the date, but Simeon and [producer] Rachel [Richardson-Jones] got in touch with me via Facebook. At first I thought it was a wind-up. I tested them, I suggested me meet at a really expensive bar and they buy all the drinks, which they did. Three years down the line, they were still in touch and eventually it was all coming together and happening.
It felt really weird. They were great people to work with, however, and offered me a lot of opportunities to input any ideas I had into the script.
Elliot James Langridge
Tell me about your character in the film.
He’s a normal guy struggling to get a job. His upbringing has been a mess and we find him really down on his luck as the film begins. He meets and gets friendly with a girl and she drags him into her world. He’s find a job through her but everything ends up getting turned completely upside down for him.
How did the project come your way?
Another actor had initially been cast in the part but left the project over creative differences. The production had 24 hours to find someone else for the lead so they called my agent and asked if he had anyone who could do a northern accent. I read the script on a Friday afternoon and by Saturday morning I was in Manchester getting fitted, and Sunday we were filming it. It was incredibly quick.
At actor usually gets a least a few weeks to prepare for a role. How did you cope with having to come in at the last minute like that?
I had a few panic attacks (laughs). I felt like I knew the character and he was really well-written. Off the page, I saw who the guy was and felt I could relate to him. I basically just jumped right in. If I’d had more time to prepare, I might have tried to do more of a Mancunian accent and given him more of a swagger. Watching the film now, I’m kinda glad I didn’t have any time and was just forced to play him as real as possible.
How did you find out about the film?
My agent informed me that an audition was coming up. I read the script and really liked it. I was initially up for another part, and after I read for that one, and then I was asked to audition for the sister of Elliot’s character, which I wound up playing.
The film sounds like it’s very much rooted in a recognisable Manchester.
We did lots of night shoots around the city’s popular Northern Quarter area. That place just lent itself to the film’s style. You’ve got these huge, old gothic buildings – some occupied, others that aren’t, plus narrow little side streets. It’s reminiscent of a Manchester of years gone by. The film has a real 80s vibe to it.
Tickets for Grimmfest screenings are still available.