Director: Anna Biller
Screenplay: Anna Biller
Starring: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum
Runtime: 120 Minutes
The Love Witch is director Anna Biller’s breathtaking vision of the illusory power of love, and the awful truths and consequences of the disparity of gender and the balance of power.
It’s kind of impossible to discuss the film without lavishing awe and praise at its technical accomplishments. The aesthetic that the film carries is an emulation of 60s filmmaking practises and techniques, shot on 35mm with a colour pallet matching of the era and Technicolor beauty, it looks and feels like a film out of time. Cut, shot, coloured and dressed to within an inch of its life, the aesthetic is perfect and flawless in construction, but uses its beautiful surface as a means of pouring over the past with a contemporary frame of mind.
Anna Biller’s last film, Viva, was a heavily influenced 70s sexploitation homage with a modern twist of feminist reading, and this takes her work there to remarkable heights of authorship. She is able to encapsulate and capture so many different modes of address and through the presentation of its narrative, shifting seamlessly between comedy and horror, but all the while sustaining an undercurrent of feminist discussion. Biller takes the power away from the male gaze, weaponizing it against the patriarchy, which uses objectification in these circumstances as a means of mere titillation and to reinforce the hierarchy. Instead, she peels away at the roots of female character tropes and ideals as seen through the filter of genre cinema; a film that carries itself with ladylike etiquette and grace but through its own will and powerful motivation. This is a celebration of the female form and a fierce condemnation of the elemental pieces of patriarchal repression across human history.
At the heart of all this is Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a young witch who’s starting a new life in a new town while looking for love. It’s a typical enough setup for a character, but Elaine is a play on the femme fatale archetype – one who uses sex as a means finding love. So obsessed is she with the tangible idea of love in a world that appears to lack such sentiments with an aura of narcissism, she is the pure and extrapolated final product that uses her form for the benefit of men (and her own emotional satisfaction), but in doing so drowns and dooms them to an ends that they must follow.
The stunning newcomer Samantha Robinson is incredible as Elaine, she’s simply exquisite, commanding in physical presence and so elegant and airy she might as well float, and balances the campiness and sincerity of the material so well in her performance. M. David Mullen’s camera fauns over her as much as the men on screen do, with the audience as equally trapped in her powerful allure.
This is a film where its quirks are little more than décor disguising its violent and insidiously clever purpose, managing to make so much out of what might immediately appear to be a beautiful mileage of pectoral reference from Michael Powell and Douglas Sirk to Dario Argento.
The Love Witch is a bewitching classic that will be open to a variety of dense and different readings; a perfect and somewhat essential new feminist text of twisted, sexy fun.