This flagrantly fragrant new indie/horror satire isn’t just daring, it’s got a bloody cheek
by Dylan Jones
Let’s be honest, any movie called “The Love Witch” is bound to be at least a little bit camp. And this release from daring young indie filmmaker Anna Biller took camp to new levels.
In a nondescript town in Southern California, the beautiful young Elaine – played by an instantly bewitching Samantha Robinson – is brewing up spells and potions to seduce men. She is unfulfilled and restless, and before long, she of course takes things too far, leaving behind her a titillating trail of sex, sin, and sauvignon.
As things progress, it becomes apparent that this isn’t your average amateur B-movie. Yes, there’s bad acting, yes there’s tired witchcraft horror tropes, yes there’s gratuitous nudity…but somehow, it all weaves together perfectly.
The best way to describe this film, is it’s basically like a two hour long Lana Del Rey music video, but with added ornate daggers, psychosexual feminism and cucumber sandwiches. In fact, much like Lana Del Rey, it’s self-consciously kitsch, and wonderfully self-assured in its own insanity. There’s a knowing cheekiness and joy to it. It’s almost as if director Biller is just happy she’s had the opportunity to make a movie, and is taking full advantage of it with kaleidoscopic, technicolour abandon!
The whole thing is imbued with a heavenly, pastel, cheap 70s porno sheen, which makes the wiccan scenes of Sodom and hair tossingly dramatic death scenes all the more hilarious. It’s also got references to old Hollywood, the breathless melodrama of movies like An Affair To Remember or Suddenly, Last Summer.
And despite its seductively superficial surface, there are deeper forces at work here. Elaine is the epitome of the ideal woman of the male gaze. She cooks flawlessly, looks flawless and has flawless sex on command. At one point she informs her horrified best friend that “the function of women is to please men.” In Elaine’s world, women need men to love them purely, unconditionally, and in exchange for this, women offer sex.
It’s an interesting and rather bleak take on the role of women in society, and plays on the way women are treated not only in the horror genre, but in cinema in general. Too often the pure function of women in movies is sex, and The Love Witch acknowledges this and turns it on its head with a wry, lipstick-smeared smile.
Perhaps the best thing about the pouty vagueness of the movie as a whole, is that, down to Samantha Robinson’s fabulous apathetic acting, Elaine’s intentions are never properly made clear. We never know whether she truly seeks the company of men, or seeks to destroy them. We don’t know whether she’s a militant feminist, or an acutely damaged nymphomaniac. She’s an unreadable, beautiful blank canvas, brewing, smirking and mincing her way through a dreamy wonderland of manipulation and faded glamour. The result is intelligent, gripping and sparklingly unique.
The Love Witch’s bizarre, amateurish image is too well-thought out and too artful to not be deliberate. To call it a spoof would not be to do it justice. It’s a pastiche! A mad, neurotic, contrived, irresistible, wonderful pastiche. The Love Witch put a spell on us, and now we’re hers! Ten points to Ravenclaw!
The Love Witch is out now on limited release