Anna Biller’s The Love Witch follows Elaine (Samantha Robinson): a witch in her desperate quest for true love. But, despite her best efforts to seduce the potential men of her dreams, they always manage to end up dead…
Biller takes the concept of an auteur to its extreme (acting as director, producer and editor, designing costumes and sets, and even composing the film’s score) and her dedication to the project really shows. Designed and filmed in a way that perfectly replicates the horror and sexploitation flicks of the 60s and 70s, in all their gaudy Technicolor glory, The Love Witch has it all: terrible haircuts, brilliant make-up, stilted performances and occultist full-frontal nudity.
It’s perhaps a little too faithful to its sources in parts (the pacing is a little lethargic) and the two hour run-time may prove testing for some, but the film never collapses into pastiche. Biller’s obvious love for her sources’ aesthetics is matched by her fierce opposition to their sexual politics. “You sound as if you’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy”, a friend tells the witch. She’s not wrong; Elaine’s idea of true love is being carried away on a horse by her prince. So often, however, her willingness to embrace medieval gender roles fails to bring her any meaningful happiness.
The film’s humour prevents it from ever getting dull (say hello to cinema’s best tampon joke). However, beneath the deadpan hilarity lies a very serious message. A cry of ‘burn the witch’ descends into an attempted rape – a reminder of the horrific realities of the misogyny the film satirises. Perhaps the film’s masterstroke is that it is not set in the period it visually emulates but rather the present day. Unlike the sexploitation genre, the issues raised in The Love Witch have not been left in the past. Smart, funny and visually ambitious, The Love Witch is the feminist occultist satire you never knew you needed.
Image: Carnival Honey