Film Review – The Love Witch
The Love Witch
“Maybe life could be a fairy tale if you pleased your husband more,” says a self-proclaimed witch to a concerned housewife in Anna Biller’s dark comedy-horror-fantasy, The Love Witch, about how feminine mystique, wiles, and competition attempts to undercut the patriarchy not by switching gender roles as much as gender reactions. At times wickedly funny and blunt, this film is as unique in its presentation as it is retro in style, with a magnetic lead character who takes us on a journey we are positive we’ve seen before, only as a reflection of a reflection.
As director, producer, composer, editor, production designer, set decorator, and costume designer (and I’m sure a multitude of other tasks surrounding the creation and distribution of a film), Biller’s story is as self-referential in its dialogue as it is universal in its themes. As Elaine, Samantha Robinson is absolutely perfect as a witch with a Tracy Flick-level of ambition towards attaining everlasting love and an Alex Forrest-degree of vengeance towards anyone who pops the bubble of her carefully designed fantasy. Reveling in the eye-popping palettes of the old Technicolor movies of the 1960s and 70s, Biller’s characters are flawless in their presentation, as if each had emerged from an icebox as their cue was called. Robinson is never seen without full hair, makeup, and outfit, her shoes matching her handbag which goes with her eyeshadow. Not once does she sweat, or shine, or scream: all is pristine and composed.
Elaine has just arrived in town from San Francisco, where her husband Jerry (Stephen Wozniak) “left” her (a flashback shows him dying from poison, but Elaine doesn’t dwell in technicalities). “Men are very fragile,” she admits in narration, “They can get crushed down if you assert yourself in any way.” Treating her religion as much a science as a craft, Elaine pushes on by analyzing what went wrong with her previous “experiment,” tweaking the spells and potions she concocts, and scouting her new environment for potential marks. She moves into the top floor of a rambling Victorian home that had been previously designed and furnished in a Wiccan theme which she loves, and she frequents a tea room with her realtor-turned-friend, Trish (Laura Waddell). It is the distressed Trish who receives Elaine’s advice about creating her own fairy tale, though she argues that Elaine’s mentality disrupts any form of equality women may have established, however tenuous, with men. “How are we going to be equals,” Trish argues, if we keep catering to their needs?” Elaine counters with providing sex in order to “unlock their love potential.”
By perfecting the mystique around herself, Elaine remains in control of the passions that threaten to overtake her conquests, including local professor Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) and Trish’s husband, Richard (Robert Seeley). Wayne is completely overtaken by what he perceives as Elaine’s openness and generous nature, while Elaine quickly becomes annoyed by his histrionic neediness and sleeps on the couch for night (ha!). The next day: whoops, he’s dead. Whipping up a concoction of herbs, urine, and a used tampon, Elaine gives him a quick burial and returns to the prowl.
Back at her apartment, Elaine often looks at the wall art, most of which involve nude females or geometric arrangements of breasts with erect nipples: the former in pastoral or wooded scenes where a male is often subjugated or killed; the latter evoking sensuality and hypnotic power. She often visits the local burlesque, where the yokels congregate to watch the striptease but react angrily if the objectified suddenly want to speak or turn the tease into a statement. Where Elaine and her friends in the occult, namely Barbara (Jennifer Ingrum) and Gahan (Jared Sanford), sees sex magic as revealing the “power of sexual dancing,” the locals want the witches to go away. In several ritual scenes involving nude male and female practicioners, Elaine reconnects with the sensuality and body worship that her power and personal ethos is derived from, even as she isn’t completely convinced in its authenticity or connected with the group.
Mistaking her natural abilities as evidential of her cure from a nervous breakdown after Jerry, rather than a raw talent desperately in need of control and structure, Elaine’s aspirations of the perfect fairy tale cause her flawless exterior to crack as a local cop named Griff (Gian Keys) starts to zero in on weak spots in her plan. While Elaine recommends destroying a man’s fear of you, as “when his heart is open to love, you may do with him what you will,” Griff secretly believes that “the more you get to know a woman, the less you can feel about her.” One of the film’s few weak spots is its languid pace as Elaine steadily moves through the men in her town, each conquest better looking, more self-assured, and therefore less intuitive than the last. Even Elaine sometimes speaks and walks as if she is floating in air, which becomes a bit tiresome as the fantasy grows more horrific and her outlandish behavior more hypocritical. Still, we want to see if she can ultimately get away with her crimes and find the man on the white horse to whisk her away, even if she has to hold a knife to his back as they ride off into the sunset.