Anna Biller’s second feature debut as director is a colourful and magical throwback in the era of the Technicolor Hollywood comedies of the 1960s and the Italian horror from the 70s. The Love Witch, more than just being a tribute to the classics of the golden age of cinema, is a shining experience on the resume of Biller – who not only directed the film, but also wrote it, produced it, edited it and designed and hand-made all the costumes.
Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a character carefully curated with her personality to be accurate reflected in her wardrobe. She is an ordinary witch from an ancient order of witches and wizards that reflects the style of an esoteric cult, with its own rituals and its own patriarchal structure. Elaine is a fosterer of such beliefs as she is a widow who moves from San Francisco to a small California coastal town after the death of her beloved husband. She is now in search of the real love.
The Love Witch is a movie filled with sexuality and it borrows more that a simple palette of colours from the genre it is inspired from. Elaine is a wrecking ball in the modern conception of women and their sexuality. She often poses herself as “your ultimate sexual fantasy” as she enters a journey towards the real love. She states – in a retrograde way – that women only want to be loved by men, unconditionally for who they really are, in exchange for this, they offer sex. Through a witchcraft of love poisons and magic tricks and spells, she makes three men fall in love with her. Each of the love stories, ultimately, get Elaine’s partners killed. Is she, however, a brutal murderer who unleashes her disappointment over her lovers or her male sex partners’ tendency to die is the result of their own weakness?
The Love Witch presents itself as a hymn to the fear of female sexuality. The argument has been crucial to many of the horror classics of the genre it draws inspiration from, but Ms. Biller comedy subvert and parody all these characteristics while still making a tribute to the genre. The storytelling is almost never streamlined. It is instead very baroque and filled with calques from many other genres that drift the plot away from its original intentions.
While the movie stays true to its Technicolor palette and directing style, being it shot and projected on lush 35mm, it is often introduced by other – sometimes unnecessary – genres, from the New Age to the Renaissance Faire hippie, that create real obstacles to the very success of the story. Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Gian Keys and Laura Waddell star respectively as two of Elaine’s lovers and as Trish, a friendly neighbour who falls victim of Elaine’s manipulations.
Although they all offer some great performances, the real star of the movie remains Samantha Robinson who offers a truly magnetic interpretation of her character. The whole movie is packed with humour as well as anxiety derived from the horror-style influence of Dario Argento’s Italian ‘70s movies. It’s a comedy that greatly succeeds in the representation and tribute of many classics but fails in conducting a truly consistent plot, throughout the whole two hours of screen-time.