Synopsis: 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. (Source)
Sex, death and love – directly or indirectly, these are the three things that define our lives, and it’s these primal ideas that make up director Anna Biller’s intoxicating The Love Witch. Biller’s latest is a technicolor cocktail of dangerous women, witchcraft and sexual liberation, providing a cheeky ode to the satanic thrillers of the 70s, but through a modern, twisted romance. Taking horror tropes and giving them a sharp, feminist slant, Biller creates a tapestry of sordid, fleshly thrills that is oddly touching, but also subversive. Aided by Samantha Robinson’s irresistible performance, the film is delectable exploitation that you don’t need to feel guilty about.
After a failed romance, tormented witch Elaine (Samantha Robinson) flees San Francisco to be anonymous amidst a small town in Redwood County. There, she befriends a couple who have been happily married for a good while, Trish (Laura Waddell) and Richard (Robert Seeley), who rekindle her desire to find the man of her dreams. She’s lured back into the game by a handsome professor named Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), who she believes may be a suitable mate. Elaine immediately casts a love spell on her would-be suitor, but it proves too strong, turning him into a lovesick manbaby who can’t stand to be without her. Eventually, the strain proves too much and kills Wayne, arousing the suspicions of a local Sheriff named Griff (Gian Keys). Leaving behind a trail of bodies and failed romances, Elaine searches for love no matter what the cost.
By setting the film in present day but surrounding her characters and their anachronistic environment with pulpy genre trappings, Biller smartly deconstructs modern gender politics through a gleefully perverse sex comedy. Every scene is dripping with absurdist humor, eroticism and decadent production design, creating a piercing character portrait of a woman who is both liberated and caged by her sexual desire. Elaine thinks she knows men, their needs, wants and how to please them, but the twist is that she is just as confused as the men who marginalize her for being a woman, or are quick to turn her into an object rather than a person. Through it all, Biller turns a spotlight to how women are more than their societal perception, without betraying a sense of playfulness, throwing in everything from a renaissance faire, a joke about used tampons and a slew of satanic rituals. Still, at the film’s core, it’s a deceitfully simple story about our innate desire to simply love and be loved in returned, skewering misconceptions while also acting as a fascinating, bizarre procedural.
The film really hits thanks to Samantha Robinson’s performance, which has its roots in melodramatic, over-stylized theatre dramatics. She’s also the definition of glamor, working turquoise eyeliner, raven hair extensions, a sharp gaze and inimitable presence into a femme fatale for the ages. Robinson has a great sense of comedic timing, delivering deadpan quips with conviction, tying together the film’s freewheeling satire and sincerity. Laura Waddell’s Trish is a nice addition as well, playing a character who struggles with similar types of insecurities, yet is more assured in many ways.
The Love Witch is the work of an auteur, a psychedelic farce that funnels feminine white horse fantasies into real fears and hopes. If anything, it’s a celebration of the relationship between men and women, including the things that separate each gender while inexplicably tying them together. The results are liberating, cherishing femininity while also exploring the ways it’s exploited or taken for granted. Biller’s latest is a resplendent mixture of old and new, a crowning achievement that shows us where we’ve been, where we are now, and the tragic effects of a patriarchal society. Above all, the film is tons of fun – it’s relentlessly funny, unmistakably stylish and utterly sexy.
Screening for one week at Los Angeles’ Nuart Theatre, starting November 11. Actress Samantha Robinson and cast will be in attendance, Fri Nov 11, 7PM (with director Anna Biller), Sat, Nov 12, 7PM and Sunday, Nov 13 at 4PM.