Anna Biller’s THE LOVE WITCH is magnetic for a multitude of reasons whether it resides in its themes of feminism, fantasy, witchcraft and the pursuit of love, or perhaps it’s strength in color schemes, melodramatic dialogue, and some swanky, groovy music. The mise en scène is of the grandest kind as it’s impressiveness shines in the arena of independent filmmaking, almost like it’s the discovery of some rare fossil. This is a genuinely, handcrafted film just like every stitch you hand sew on a quilt that takes copious amounts of concentration, time, and skill. I mean every crevice of this film is decadent even in the faint pink piece of cake Elaine (Samantha Robinson) feistily takes a bite of as she’s talking with Trish (Laura Waddell) in her apartment. The details are mesmerizing and perhaps it’s in those fine details, Biller casts a majestic spell over her audience or maybe it’s Samantha Robinson’s consistent, very distinguished giggle which totally started impersonating the moment I heard. What? It’s fun!
Biller’s vision electrifies the screen with her crafted props, melodramatic lighting, radiant color scheme, and badass choice in stylistic, vintage, oh-my-god wardrobe. For a brief moment, and (I mean brief) I was totally reminded of Mario Bava’s 1964 horror-thriller film BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and there’s a great deal of glorious color and magical lighting that makes it ooze with wonderment. Not so much the onslaught of continuously slaying of women, it’s quite the opposite in that regard because in the LOVE WITCH it’s a discourse, a celebration on femininity, sensuality, and the ability to coexist in a world where men’s definition of women has constricted them et cetera, et cetera. The film is a picnic of fun with it’s simple yet complex narrative that virtually anyone with a beating heart could admire. Elaine’s notion about love derives from her failed marriage and death of her husband which spurs her into witchcraft as some kind life preserve (metaphorically speaking). Her quest to find love and the real kicker here is how it’s presented. She dolls herself up playing the role of every man’s fantasy, a sex object, catering to their needs, while hoping to capture her dream fairytale of finding prince charming and living happily ever after. I mean it’s every woman’s dream right? As she says to Trish who also takes note of Elaine’s charm and beauty but questions her rationality. Brainwashed by the patriarchy? Sure. But, Elaine’s definition of love is slightly skewed which makes me assume something has happened to this character to shape such a definition.
In this case, the pursuit of love seems somewhat like a fabricated veneer in order for Elaine to attain some form of revenge, and obtain ultimate power over her male libertines by hypnotizing them with her beautiful eyes or having them drink a potion of vodka, organic berries, and hallucinogenic herbs. However, it doesn’t quite seal the deal with any of them. In a way it’s like an analogy for all those Cosmo magazines a woman reads in hoping to keep the attention of their secret crush. Elaine’s doing the same thing but with sex magic, and love potions. This makes me question is it all an ulterior motive? Is it really about love or is about power? What does one prescribe to love or power or do they go hand in hand? Regardless, it’s amusing to ponder, there could multiple takes on this and I admire that greatly.
Then there’s the foreshadowing of the infamous tarot card with the heart and three swords (forgive me ignorance, I don’t know the official name for it) that’s shown throughout the film. The viewer learns she’s had mishaps in love with her husband Jerry, who apparently dies which is loosely shown in a flashback. As Elaine states she might be addicted to love and in pursuing her male interests they too submit to all the messy, confusing, inconvenient, feelings notions of love. Unfortunately, it’s too much for them, and these men literally die from feeling the impact and effects of it. Interesting. Men physically die from love while Elaine (emotionally) dies from being in love. She even states this while in the Victorian tea room with Trish, “the day Jerry left me was the day I DIED.”
Another interesting point is how the men feel about love, when we hear Wayne, (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) the literature professor (who after drinking the love potion) explains his thoughts about not needing anyone or Richard (Trish’s husband) desiring a love affair. Or better yet, Griff, (Gian Keys) the detective, Elaine deems as “the one” and his thoughts that a woman can never measure up to a man’s ideal.
In the sequence where Elaine turns to witchcraft which is simultaneously shown in flashbacks but what’s strange here is this abysmal look of vulnerability on her face when the Wiccans perform their ritual. Sex magic? It looks downright uncomfortable and you can see the fear in her eyes. Like what the hell did I just sign up for!? I mean, if you were on an alter, practically naked, surrounded by naked people, with a chalice full of wine (or maybe blood?) hovering over you while a dagger somewhat pierces through it, all while chanting you have the “perfect trust and perfect love” would you second guess yourself? Each to their own.
This leads me to a fairly prominent scene which isn’t so simple to address because on the surface Elaine is being sensual with herself while all these intrusive thoughts swirl around inside her mind and we hear it through numerous voice overs. There’s this look on her face as if she’s revisiting every ugly scar she’s ever endured from men. It’s shaped her to not necessarily take pleasure by her own touch but to be reminded she’s not good enough. It’s a challenging scene to watch because any woman who bares these kind of scars endures that uphill battle, emotionally. Think about it, we live in a world, where every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted according to RAINN. Personally, it’s heartbreaking and strikes a pretty intense nerve within me. Rape, sexual assault, abuse, are all tremendously ugly subjects and finding a way to allude to it can be tricky, however, direction wise, Biller does a genuinely unique job with the subject matter at least that’s what I got from it. This gives the audience a bigger glimpse into Elaine’s past without relying on some foggy flashback, the voiceover alone was perfect and set established that tone fairly firmly.
Okay, I’m probably being way too philosophical yet again, what can I say it’s my style digging deep. ANYWAYS, what makes this cult classic so appealing is it’s aesthetic because there’s always something appeasing with vibrant, playful, eye-popping color whether it be the pink ensemble such as that magnificent hat Elaine is wearing in the tea room or how Trish attempts to impersonate Elaine wearing her witchy long-haired wig along with the blue eye shadow and pink lingerie there’s something iconic about these images, something familiar, a hint of something like that of a classic Hollywood melodramatic woman’s film way back in yester-year but Biller gives it a fresh, inexplainable feeling, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Even the lighting has that magically stage essence about it. How much of the back lighting highlights the actor’s hair, giving it a brisk angelic glow, which usually I would find super cheesy but in this case it just appears so damn cool! These subtleties are magic, plain and simple, movie magic.
When I first heard about THE LOVE WITCH I had seen the image of Elaine holding a bloody dagger and thought oh a horror film, hmmm colorful horror film, maybe like THE SHINING or SUSPIRIA? But when I first watched it, there was very little horror to it, not in a grotesque way whatsoever, it became more of a melodramatic thriller with a flair for the iconic retro-stylized sentiment of the 60s but oozing with femininity and sensuality which is a far cry from the exploitation genre which I often hear people compare it to. Odd, I didn’t see it that way at all.
This was indeed, a different breed of film which plays around with some really fun set designs, the acting, but also defining what era we were in, I absolutely loved that I wasn’t entirely sure if this was present day or some period in the 1960s. Anyone who has nostalgia for 60s/70s films and goes googly-eye’d for Technicolor will appreciate this marvel of celluloid delight. It’s genuinely one of a kind and it’s a film you can’t quantifiably compare to today’s mega-superhero-CGI-love-fest of a blockbuster. No, No, No, personally as a woman maybe even as a man the viewer can relate to Elaine, because love is universal, love is the key to must things, and love will make you go crazy nonetheless, this film does a tremendous job in capturing one’s attention. One thing I admire is how this film presents such an open discussion for sex politics because it has and will probably always will be a long standing discussion. If you haven’t seen THE LOVE WITCH, I guarantee you will be placed under its captivating spell and will probably watch it half a dozen times. I’m looking forward to seeing what Anna Biller creates next!