Review - The Love Witch
By midlandsmovies, Mar 2 2017 11:02AM
The Love Witch (2017) Dir. Anna Biller
“Do you like to ride, Elaine?”
With a camp retro-ness and grindhouse quality that only an early Tim Burton or Tarantino could dream of comes a genre-loving film of obsession and sexual politics. The Love Witch stars a brilliant Samantha Robinson as the title character Elaine, who is a lovelorn witch that dabbles in mysticism, potions and tarot cards in an attempt to find herself the man of her affections. Or is it of her obsessions? Well, the film uses Hammer horror and John Walters-style kitsch to actually deliver much more complex and deeper themes of femininity and patriarchy.
The gorgeous sets and costume design help tell the story of Elaine as she arrives in a new town, escaping her ambiguous past life, and meeting a lecturer called Wayne. She suggests he whisks her off to his isolated cabin for a clandestine rendezvous, before convincing him to take a swig from her mysterious hip-flask. From here, it seems as though Elaine has concocted a brew that appears to show the true character of those who drink it.
In this instance the steak-eating hunk of masculinity transforms into a crying man-child and what began as erotic worship ends with Elaine burying his body in the garden. Adorning his makeshift grave is a “gift” of nature that consists of a used tampon and a jar of urine. The little-seen hygiene product seemed to echo Psycho’s first ever-toilet flush in a further directorial nod to the schlock and boundary-pushing of 60s horror.
Similarly a spot-on score partly parallels Bernard Herman’s iconic strings and is complemented by a psychedelia soundtrack of harps and horror Hammond organs. This mix of influences from different eras also shows Biller having fun with thematic and aesthetic anachronisms. The 60s are invoked with Cadillac and hot rod cars as well as kinky boots and hair styles from the time, but the illusion is amusingly broken as she throws in 2016 BMWs and smart phones.
These knowing winks keep the Love Witch from becoming stale as lashings of comedy – from the actors’ monotone delivery of lines to the hilarious weeping males Elaine leaves in her wake – keep the tone bouncing between light and shade. Slightly off-kilter framing and hard cuts create a quirky and self-referential b-movie humour, somewhat akin to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace series.
As Elaine continues her endeavours with bubbling dry-ice tonics, a local policeman (played with virility by a square jawed Gian Keys) attempts to crack the case of the missing man. Here we notice that plot is quite minimal with information sometimes delivered in streams of indelicate monologue. It’s deliberately slow-paced and edited – perhaps to a fault at times – BUT Biller has a voice that cuts through any of these tiny and ultimately inconsequential flaws.
Her stylish design sits comfortably with her comments on nature, identifying witches as outcasts and using sexuality as a positive. And Biller’s serious questions work well in a uniquely theatrical film of heightened reality. One man states that burlesque performance is “reclaiming womanhood” yet Biller keeps some of her voice ambiguous, as at times male clichés are espoused by female characters and vice versa. An “equality of difference” and other such thorny issues may seem heavy material but are entrapped in a Kaleidoscope of cut-scenes and drug fuelled images that reflect the bravura of the accomplished director who can handle the frequent shift in tones.
From “sex magic” to crimson bed sheets, the horror is never too far away as well. Literal (and metaphorical) bondage again reflects the clever but balanced topics Biller wishes to convey whilst a Renaissance Fayre has thespian-style staging and alludes to the natural medieval past of witches.
Enchanting and engaging, The Love Witch sees Biller creating a multifaceted masterpiece that, whilst on the surface tells the story of a technicolour temptress, is a far more magical experience mixing low-budget tropes with high-brow awareness.
Midlands Movies Mike