The Love Witch
A modern-day witch uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, in a tribute to 1960s pulp novels and Technicolor melodramas.
Jeffrey Vincent Parise
Admittedly, the ‘60s are long before my time (not that long, but long enough). But I know enough through film history classes and through just plain old movie exploration, that when a current film takes on a specific style and film era of the past – I’ve got a pretty good idea on whether or not the filmmakers succeeded in this tricky endeavor.
Well, the new horror/comedy The Love Witch, from writer/director/producer Anna Biller can tout its wares as “a rousing success” in capturing the sights, the sounds and the texture of ‘60s Technicolor thrillers.
Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a recent convert to witchcraft – believing it to be the ultimate in female empowerment and a way to take back control of her life and to find the perfect man – who will do her bidding and love her completely. But her love potions seem to cause adverse reactions – namely turning her prospective husbands into sniveling, emotional and needy wimps. They’re basically just turning into women (according to Elaine herself). But when she finds her perfect man in the form of a police sergeant named Griff (Gian Keys), her world is turned upside down. See, he doesn’t necessarily have any reaction to her spells, oh – and he’s investigating some ritualistic murders which may or may not be connected to Elaine.
Samantha Robinson is perfectly robotic as Elaine – thus keeping in line with the film’s overwhelming The Stepford Wives motif (there’s even a mention of that tale in the film’s dialogue). Robinson doesn’t get much chance to emote, but she clearly understands the style which the filmmakers are after. And her constant eye close-ups are spot-on in their melodramatic gaze – as Elaine uses her power to influence her various men. Kudos to the makeup, hair and costume people for completing the ultimate transformation into this era – but Robinson looks the part and perfectly acts the part. Let’s face it, her performance is the ‘60s.
The men in Elaine’s life are all a great deal of fun. In addition to the Ronald Reagan-esque matinee idol look of Griff, there’s Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) whose over-the-top and uncontrollable emotions the morning after his night with Elaine – will have you howling with perverse laughter. Parise nails it! And then there’s Richard (Robert Seeley), the husband of Elaine’s friend Trish (a wonderful supporting performance from Laura Waddell) who becomes obsessed with Elaine – going so far as to pen endless love letters to his “love”. All of the men play different angles of a love-struck sucker; to great effect – with the exception of Keys. He’s a man’s man and his chiseled features and tight physique represent the strongest of male minds who might not succumb to Elaine’s magic.
One of the great triumphs of the film, is that it’s actually set in the present day. You’d think that it would be distracting to see all of this ‘60s schmaltz and melodrama in the same scene as cell phones and modern BMW luxury cars. It’s all so out of place, but it adds to the film’s overall weirdness and kooky fun.
You’ll be laughing out loud at some of the editing, lighting and music choices – all of which perfectly capture pulpy films of the ‘60s. You’ll swear that at any moment, the late Sharon Tate will show up in a scene – passing by with little fanfare behind our lead actors. Elaine’s psychedelic seduction of Wayne is an absolute highlight.
The film starts out like Hitchcock’s Psycho and The Birds – with the kitschy use of rear projection as Elaine drives along the California coast – eventually being pulled over by a police officer (will we see him later? Hmmmm…). It’s such a quaint thing now, as most everything of today is filmed on location and in the moment – looking for realism. The addition of this clearly fake car in front of a screen, sets you up immediately for the kind of film you’re about to see. From these first moments, I knew I was going to fall in love (pun intended).
And just a quick call-out to some of the various scenes which will absolutely tickle you: the tearoom frequented by Elaine and Trish (complete with a live harp player) and any sequence in Elaine’s apartment – the artwork on the walls will blow your mind and in my case – I began an online search for auctions of these fantastic pieces (some done by writer/director Biller). And then there’s the surreal and bizarre moment when Elaine and Griff happen upon a renaissance fair!
The only negative I could find on The Love Witch was the pacing and the length. All of the goodness so inherent in this visual style and wonderful performances, would not have been even slightly effected by a hearty slash in the running time. For goodness sakes, the film’s 2 hours long. That’s not to say that I enjoyed it (or adored it) any less, but I did find that it took a little too long to get going. I don’t think we would have missed any of the nuance or film inside jokes, if we lost 20 minutes of the film’s length.
As mentioned above, the Ira Levin shocker; The Stepford Wives, is owed a debt of gratitude. With the bright Technicolor, The Love Witch also looks like an Argento film (there’s a scene in the film’s climax which sure looked a lot like Suspiria). And it feels and sounds like Valley of the Dolls.
All of these homages and tributes – are perfectly achieved and perfectly sold. If you like this, I recommend you take a look at the films mentioned above (The Stepford Wives, Valley of the Dolls) as well as George A. Romero’s little-known but brilliant Season of the Witch. These viewings will all tell the tale of how well Biller used those themes, those camera tricks and those brilliant colors to achieve a modern but nostalgic take on a witchcraft thriller from a bygone era.
And extra kudos to Anna Biller. Besides writing, producing and directing – she was also responsible for the film’s editing, costuming, production design and score. I mean, c’mon – to succeed on so many levels – well, the word auteur easily comes to mind – and for once, it’s deserved.
With a truly brilliant lead performance from Samantha Robinson, a color palette, editing and mood straight out of the ‘60s (again – all done perfectly) and melodramatic music which will whisk you away to this era of heavy eye shadow and pastel lipsticks – The Love Witch (God forgive me for this one) will cast a lasting spell over you. And you’re better off just surrendering and going with the flow, ‘cause you’re going to love this film.
This is a film which I’m already in the mood to watch again.
The Love Witch is still hitting several film festivals, but no wider release information is available.