No need to adjust your television sets (or movie screens, or streaming devices) – The Love Witch transports viewers back to a gaudy era of filmmaking when colorful moving pictures were a new, hip thing. Like a blast from the 60s, filmmaker Anna Biller conjures a transfixing tale of seduction and objective romance that’s highlighted by thick layers of makeup, Gothic wardrobes, and deliciously devilish domination. Woman deserve equal power to their male counterparts, and Biller gets hers by ensuring that men are being played as the duller gender here. Think less Salem Witch Trials, and more I Dream Of Genie with knives, killing and hallucinogenic herbs.
Samantha Robinson stars as Elaine, a self-proclaimed “love witch” who yearns to find her Prince Charming. To help speed along the process, Elaine whips up some wicked potions that unlock a man’s true emotions. The good thing is, her concoctions work like a charm – but maybe a little too well. Every suitor Elaine dopes-up falls into an obsessive trance beyond “normal love,” becoming crippled by even the sight of their captivating enchantress. Eventually, Elaine grows tired of each scenario and moves on to the next target, leaving her past lovers heartbroken and in shambles. That’s when bodies start to amass, and questions start getting asked – all of which lead back to Elaine.
In this Technicolor homage to gender-swapped “weaknesses,” men are portrayed as the fragile, lovestruck fools whose devastation comes from unreciprocated love. Women are usually the ones getting kicked to the curb or taken advantage of in films, but Elaine’s cold-hearted focus on personal happiness shows quite the opposite. Love is more than just a battlefield here – it’s a one-sided game rigged by a confident mastermind, and it seems damn-well deserving at times. Biller gives a hazy “fuck you” to cinematic convention, while going the route of charismatic hedonism by way of after school special.
Even more intriguing is a strong-willed take on actions others might find degrading. The female form is celebrated in all its glory, from an assertion that women hold all the sexual power to the beauty of menstruation. All praise the female anatomy, as Burlesque dancers are seen as Goddesses who should feel no shame in commanding a man’s undivided attention (and money). Enchantments are no more than Robinson dancing around in lacy lingerie (plus a little herbal enhancement), yet her victims find themselves caught in a sexy tractor beam of lipstick and blush. Sure, it’s a reverse-appropriation of man’s primitive, cro-magnon mindsets, but there’s a certain power in Elaine’s take-what-I-want deservedness. Not saying I condone her methods, but there’s something undeniably mesmerizing about even the way she bats her eyelashes.
Biller’s testament to hypnotic sexuality stems from Robinson herself, who enjoys being the center of masculine attention. Her dismissive nature plays with crass comedic value, as she tosses weak-minded boys aside like stale loaves of bread. She’s a man-eater whose ferocity hides behind pussy-cat purs, simply coming and going as she wishes. No guy can resister her feminine wilds (especially when they’re tripping balls), because that’s the presence Robinson puts forward with charming insanity. There’s a broken sense of the female dream fueling her desires (everyone deserves their fairy tale), but Robinson ensures that Elaine never weakens her stance on true (crazy) love. A strange conviction that makes Samantha Robinson a spectacular centerpiece amidst some other pedestrian performances.
I’ll admit that Biller’s choice to showcase a 60s Victorian feel seems strange at first, but as we grow accustomed to puffy wigs, sparkly eyeliner and pleated pants, The Love Witch finds individuality in antique gravitas. A tea room saturated in pink only forwards this ambiance of domineering femininity, while bubbling cauldrons hearken back to this fake, almost telegraphed vibe in-tune with early television dramatics. Even when burly men throw punches, there’s rarely emphasis put on selling each hit. If you told me The Love Witch was made in 1968, I’d be none the wiser – and I kind of like that.
There are a few things working against Biller here, but every one has to do with timing. Two hours? Really? The Love Witch is a gimmick piece at heart – an above-average gimmick piece at that – but it drags on for far longer than necessary. With so much material, our fixation starts to dwindle, like Elaine’s magic is slowly wearing off as each scene passes. One can only take so many Summer Solstice songs while recurring themes are pushed forward in the same manner, as inevitability plays out at a slower pace than expected.
Yet, The Love Witch is still loaded with period-esque charm, even with all the unnecessary elongation. Samantha Robinson is a sinful vixen who reminds of a Bond-villain-meets-horror-hunny, even if there’s not a single “scare.” The horror here is about finding and losing love, or possibly becoming infatuated with grandiose visions that can never be fulfilled. It’s like a poisonous Disney princess movie where the princess takes matters into her own hands, for better or worse…
The Love Witch is a seductive 60s time-capsule that calls back to the technicolor charms of early genre filmmaking.