If you happened to start watching The Love Witch with no prior knowledge you would instantly believe you had stumbled onto a hidden vintage horror gem from the era of sexploitation, low-budget horror and American soap operas.
The truth is although this tale of a Wiccan looking for her ideal man and using some unconventional methods to get him may appear to have been made in the 60’s or 70’s the heyday of Russ Meyer and Technicolor TV melodramas it is in fact from 2016.
What is all the more amazing is that rather than produce a superficial parody and play up the camp and comedy value like the Will Ferrell spoof The Spoils of Babylon and its sequel, writer and director Anna Biller crafts a smart and scintillating story which while referencing gender clichés and outmoded ideas of a bygone age speaks volumes on the current state of sexism.
The plot is pretty potty as the mysterious man obsessed young witch Elaine (Samantha Robinson) moves to California after her husband passes away renting a room in a Victorian mansion. Ready to start a new life and meet a new beau she utilises all her Pagan powers making potions and casting spells in an attempt to find the perfect boyfriend.
However her magic proves too powerful turning the helpless and hapless guys she beguiles into drugged up sex slaves insanely obsessed with her. Frustrated by her failure and the death of one of her potential suitors it seems Elaine will never find love that is until she meets Griff (Gian Keys) who unfortunately just happens to be the detective investigating the murder she committed.
From start to finish Biller brilliantly and painstakingly recreates the retro look of classic Hollywood shooting The Love Witch entirely on 35mm film. The colors are vibrant and garish something we rarely see in the dingy dark gritty cinema of 2016 with everything lit to look like Technicolor and the cinematography is spot on thanks to M. David Mullen an expert on vintage cinematography.
The attention to detail doesn’t stop there with the cast performing in the presentational acting style a seemingly jarring experience for audience unaccustomed to older movies and more used to naturalistic characters but which accentuates the feel of the period Biller wants to achieve perfectly.
In the lead Samantha Robinson is as captivating as her lovelorn character treading a fine line between obliviously innocence and criminally insane to great effect. The viewer can’t help but root for Elaine in her quest for a husband even if the film implies she bumped off the first one. This is primarily because she is as much a victim as a culprit as we learn about her time in the Pagan cult and her abusive childhood all of which lead to her involvement in witchcraft shaping her strange views on what a man desires and a woman should want.
The support cast are also excellent including Laura Waddell as Trish, Elaine’s only friend and worst enemy, Jeffrey Vincent Parise as bearded bedroom hopping Wayne and Gian Keys, Elaine’s dream boat boyfriend who holds extremely sexist views when it comes to relationships.
Excessively enjoyable and gorgeous to look at underneath all this façade much like the central character there is hidden depths and intelligence. The Love Witch makes some piercing and persuasive points about feminism and gender politics by portraying both the negative and positive perspectives often in comedic extremes.
With the hilariously opposing musings on marriage heard in the voice overs of Elaine and Griff during a particularly surreal Medieval mock wedding and the townsfolks utter hatred of witches in their cabaret club explained as their fear off female power as examples the script is surprisingly thought provoking frequently slipping its opinions in-between the entertainment planting ideas that will sprout long after the film has finished.
Combining so many factors The Love Witch is unlike any film you will see and it’s exciting to witness the talented Anna Biller emerging as a truly original filmmaker with an eye for style and content in equal measure.
A beautiful and barmy ode to the horror movies and TV of the 60’s and 70’s The Love Witch is a fantastic achievement not only stylistically but through its subversive script which challenges modern day views of gender, sex and feminism.