Film Review – The Love Witch (Second Take)
The Love Witch
I’m a little depressed right now. Actually, I’m a lotta depressed right now. It’s November 15, 2016 and a week ago my country elected an open racist and misogynist as president. Sigh. I’m tired and I don’t want to write about movies. I don’t even want to watch movies right now. I’ve just been cycling through episodes of The Office on Netflix and trying (unsuccessfully) to not mindlessly read crap on the internets. I committed to reviewing The Love Witch directed by Anna Biller a while back and was kind of dreading it because I feel so raw, but I said I would, so yesterday I crawled into bed with my laptop and a pair of headphones and watched the screener I was sent. I’m really happy I did. This is one of my three favorite films I’ve seen this year. (The other two being Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship and Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye.) It is a gloriously super saturated tribute to Technicolor, women’s pictures, 1970s Italian movies, made-for-tv satanic witch films, 1960s fashions, Hammer Horror, exploitation movies, and burlesque dancing. Not only did Anna Biller produce, write, and direct, she did the music, editing, costumes and set decoration. This is one woman’s very distinct vision, and it is delicious.
Beautiful witch Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is new in town, staying in her friend Barbara’s (Jennifer Ingrum) extra apartment in an appropriately witchy Victorian house. Elaine and Barbara are part of a sex magic (magik? magick?) coven and believe a woman’s greatest power comes from her sexuality. They strive to achieve a male/female polarity, and understand the only way to a man’s heart is through his libido; if women can embody men’s fantasies, then they can unlock the key to their deepest love. Elaine uses her sex magic skills to create love magic, but things never seem to turn out the way she wants them too. The men are weaker than she thought (and thus unable to maintain the polarity) or too resistant to the love of a woman. Unfortunately, Elaine cannot focus on anything but her own need to be loved no matter the consequences to her lovers or her new friend Trish (Laura Waddell). Once the men around her start dying, police detective Griff (Gian Keys) must overcome his deep attraction for Elaine to discover the truth. (Insert appropriate 1970s television thriller music here.)
I really, really needed this movie. NEEDED it. Not only am I tired of hearing about all the pussy grabbing by our future president, I’m tired of super hero movies for dudes. I’m tired of the constant male gaze even in films marketed to women. I am tired of only men getting the funds to direct quirky, weirdo, arthouse cinema. I don’t really care about mainstream films lately, which is why I think I have stopped reviewing movies so much. I just want to see things with an individual point of view, and that is getting harder and harder to find. I am soooooo happy this movie exists. Biller has taken care with even the smallest details here, and it shows in every single frame.
The Love Witch is a sensual movie, both in content and form, but its sexuality is fun and not creepy. There’s a ton of nudity, but a lot of it is campy or even silly, and I never felt uncomfortable with how the filmmakers show women’s bodies. The movie itself is delightful, especially – but not only – if one is a movie buff. There are a lot of references to earlier film conventions, but instead of becoming bogged down in minutia, Biller creates something new and complete within itself. It’s highly stylized, but consistent and everything works. All of the characters are costumed in a late 1960s manner and their immediate belongings and settings reflect that. But they are living in a modern time with DNA evidence, cell phones, and the latest car models. Visually, this film is an exquisite riot of color and texture. There is so much detail it’s hard to capture it all on the first viewing. But it’s never too much, and everything item on screen serves to further the story.
There’s things to think about as well as look at. Elaine cannot focus on anything but being loved, and is willing to accept her position in the somewhat patriarchal retrograde coven to get what she wants. Hers is a toxic form of femininity, but it is met by an equally disastrous masculinity that can only relate to women as sexual objects. If this all seems like a boring treatise on gender roles, it’s not. Yeah there’s a lot going, but above all else, this is a SUPER FUN FILM THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ENJOY ON ANYTHING BUT A SURFACE LEVEL IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO. But there is subtext and artistry if you are into that sort of thing. I do have a couple of criticisms. It’s too long (there’s a slow patch at the Renaissance Faire), and for such a queer film, there are no gays to be seen. But I can want better and still really enjoy what is there. If you think you might like this, please go see it. I really want Anna Biller to make more movies.