How do I review The Love Witch?
That’s what I asked as soon as this movie ended. On what basis do I assess what I saw? With what criteria? With what frame of reference?
Honestly, I don’t know. That’s a testament to how strange it is.
Is it fun? Yes! Is it funny? Yes! Is it worth watching? Yes! Is it good? Uhhhh……
Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a witch, in a world where witches are common and commonly frowned upon. Her husband Jerry left her, and she’s never been the same since. She decided to dedicate her time and energy (key word here) to understanding men’s minds and figuring out how to bewitch them into loving her.
You have to become a man’s fantasy, she tells her friend. You can get love from them if you fulfill their desires. “You sound like you’ve been brainwashed by the Pat-riarchy!” her friend says – one of several hilarious lines in the film.
And so Elaine is a love witch. She uses her sexuality and her love potions to seduce men into loving her. The only problem is, the love magic is too strong. It drives the men crazy, even to the point of death.
If you combined David Lynch, Lana Del Rey, and John Waters, you just might get this movie. But probably not, because it’s obviously the work of a singular mind. And, indeed, Anna Biller is the writer, director, producer, editor, production designer, art director, set director, and costume designer!
Biller’s other films include Viva, about a housewife-turned-sex-freak (played by Biller herself) in 70’s L.A., as well as A Visit from the Incubus, and The Hypnotist. She clearly has a type.
Finding out about Biller herself was actually kind of disappointing to me. Her other films look even stranger than The Love Witch, and she dresses like Divine from Pink Flamingos. Is she a genius, or just an oddball obsessed with sex, the occult, and 70’s hippie culture? Is the movie feminist or does it just wink at feminism? These aren’t mutually exclusive, but for me it changes things if The Love Witch is the work of someone who knows exactly what she wants to do and say, or just the random outworkings of someone’s weird mind. I couldn’t tell which.
Biller said she wanted to make a film from the viewpoint of the loaded sexy witch archetype. The femme fatale gazes back. This certainly shows through. The film is full of sexuality, and Samantha Robinson is paraded on screen like Barbarella, but none of it feels exploitative (although maybe it’s just too bizarre to feel that way – again, I couldn’t really tell).
The Love Witch really is bizarre, but the kind of bizarre that is a joy to watch. It’s two hours long, but never lost my attention, as there are face-widening Easter eggs in every scene. At one point, characters participate in a medieval-style mock wedding, complete with king and queen crowns, a fake unicorn, and a real horse with a fake unicorn horn attached to its head. There are characters named “Star” and “Sister Moon,” and some of the most hilarious lines, like when a man says in an inner monologue, “Sometimes, when [a woman] tries to love you more, or give you more, you feel like you’re suffocating, drowning in estrogen.” You’ll probably want to invite some friends over for this one.
Sometimes the dialogue is so overtly suggestive and plastic that it feels like the beginning of a porn film, other times the film is indulgently melodramatic, with some of the greatest woeful expressions you’re likely to see on an actor’s face. Nothing about it is subtle, and it’s better for it.
Part of this lack of subtlety is the film’s aesthetic, which is vibrant and rich with color. There are a lot of purples and reds, and one set is almost entirely bright pink. At no point does it feel like the world we live in (save for the occasional appearance of a modern car, which seems so out of place that it’s as if a UFO has snuck into the frame). The film paints us something like a 70’s wonderland, and it’s quite stunning.
Altogether, The Love Witch is remarkably singular. It’s pulp fiction, but not without style, or substance. It can be strange, eerie, and hilarious, and throughout is full of rich colors, wacky dialogue, and you making this face: O_o