The Love Witch, 2016
Written and Directed by Anna Biller
Starring Samantha Robinson, Elle Evans, Jeffrey Vincent Praise, Lily Holleman, Dani Lennon, Laura Waddell, Stephen Wozniak, Jennifer Ingrum, Gian Keys
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.
Your appreciation of The Love Witch will all depend on how much you can get into Anna Biller’s style. Its story, character and script are one thing, but Biller’s vision is something else. In this love letter to 60s pulp novels and technicolour melodramas, The Love Witch genuinely feels like it has been kept in a time capsule fifty years ago only to be rediscovered here in 2016.
The movie’s style and presentation really are the selling points, and it’s impressive just how good Biller is at creating an atmosphere. Not content with just writing, producing, scoring, editing and directing, Biller also designed the costumes and even dressed the set. This isn’t the first time Biller has emulated this style (having done it previously with 2001’s The Hypnotist), and The Love Witch is, without a shadow of a doubt, ‘ un film de Anna Biller’. Everything from the lighting to the background to the mise-en-scene feels like the 1960s. This is then cleverly juxtaposed when a character pulls out a mobile phone or drives a modern car, reminding you that this was only made in recent times. It truly is remarkable. This is not Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez attempting to re-capture the magic of Grindhouse films by putting in fake film burns or missing reels, and it certainly isn’t the glut of imitators that came out shortly thereafter. The Love Witch feels genuine.
This is coupled with a fantastic leading performance from Samantha Robinson, who plays the titular witch. Her demeanour is sublime and her delivery of Biller’s dialogue is on-point. There’s an old adage that a star is someone who can walk into a room and all eyes turn to them, and Robinson has that in spades. She commands every scene, drawing every single bit of attention to her. And that’s not to say her co-stars are bad, and she’s certainly not ‘stealing’ anything from them. You’re meant to be drawn to her, you’re meant to fall under her spell.
What’s also surprising is that, despite the erotic undertones, The Love Witch is very conservative with its sex and nudity. In a very classy move, Biller shoots all her sex scenes and sexually charged moments without relying on titillation. Her burlesque influence is clear and it runs wild throughout as a theme, and it’s the power of suggestion is something that a lesser director would have ignored in favour of putting breasts on screen front and centre. Biller isn’t just a visionary, she’s also extremely smart.
Sadly though it’s not all roses for The Love Witch, as for all of the good the style, acting and class do, it’s undone by a pretty mundane story. There’s nothing exciting in The Love Witch, which makes it rather tedious. Some dialogue scenes drag on to an absurd degree, and the film features far too much padding. There’s some nice character developments between Elaine and Trish, but the narrative of the Griff investigating the deaths that follow The Love Witch just isn’t interesting. Perhaps it’s just this writer’s inability to appreciate the finer homage to the genre, but The Love Witch is missing something pretty crucial: a story worth investing in.
Still, it would be unkind to say The Love Witch isn’t worth checking out, as it should be put on a pedestal as a nostalgia piece people should aspire to. Many directors try to emulate the style and feel of period pieces (80s slasher movies, 70s grindhouse), but none have ever come as close as Anna Biller has to re-creating a time period. If there is also any justice in this crazy world, The Love Witch will put Samantha Robinson on the map as a star to watch.
The Love Witch is a fun curiosity, but not one to go out of your way to find.
The Love Witch is available now on the Arrow steeaming service.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★