“I’m the love witch…I’m your ultimate fantasy!” – Samantha Robinson, The Love Witch (2016)
What can I say about The Love Witch by Anna Biller…
I have used many keywords to attempt to describe this film and the experience of watching it, and the most accurate description is as follows: a candy-coated, romantic fever dream. Now, I am not that into romances (nor would I necessarily consider this movie a romance after watching the entirety of it), but this is what I mean by romantic: rich colors, candlelight, delicate ritualism, hypnotic music and cinematography, and reverence for femininity and love.
The Love Witch tells the story of Elaine Parks, a young woman who has experienced romantic hardship and learns witchcraft to reclaim her power and cultivate the life she wants. After moving from San Francisco to the redwoods of California into her friend (who introduced her to witchcraft) Barbara’s extra apartment, Elaine spends her time working as an artist and using her knowledge of natural concoctions to start her own business in self-care products and witchcraft essentials (witch bottles, voodoo dolls, etc.). When she’s not hard at work within the idyllic interior of her home, she uses her power to attract the love of her life. She is successful in her pursuits, but she soon learns that love magic can be a dangerous game.
The overarching reason this is one of my favorite films of all time is its unyielding uniqueness. Let’s first get something straight about the performances before you go cringing: the acting is intentionally campy and over-the-top as a reflection of the films that inspired Biller when writing this movie and also to bolster the satiric tone to this feminist film that does not appear so feminist onscreen. Some of the lines are laugh-out-loud awkward (see the quote at the beginning of this post), but it’s all in good fun and is essential to the experience of this particular story. The curated color palette seen throughout the film adds something even more to this magically macabre story: deep purples and reds, amber glows from candles and fireplaces, and Elaine’s signature monochrome eye makeup looks create a comforting and indulgent atmosphere that I want to visit over and over.
The movie is shot on 35mm film, used in countless movie recordings across genres from the past century but not as commonly used today. Basically, the entire cinematography has a nice, soft filter. This film, along with most of Anna Biller’s other work, is a nod to 60s and 70s cinema with a spin of female sexual empowerment. With that being said, the time period is a bit vague. The costume and hair/makeup styles indicate the 70s period, while certain styles and technologies presented in the film lean more current. However, this ambiguity adds to the dream-like quality of this film. Instead of focusing on the technicalities, this film persuades the viewer to surrender to the experience and absorb its aesthetic and romanticism.
The Love Witch challenges my own views of femininity and its innate power. In the context of the film, gendered acts of service are acts of power. Alongside her witchcraft, Elaine puts a lot of energy into being the ideal woman in a relationship. She emphasizes the importance of looking nice at all times, cooking for her man, taking care of him, and making him feel confident in his masculinity. Trish, Elaine’s new friend, says what we’re all thinking in the sugary pastel tearoom scene in the beginning: “You sound as if you’d been brainwashed by the patriarchy!” Views such as these throughout the film direct the viewer to the satiric nature of Elaine’s role.
Here’s the thing: Anna Biller knew exactly what she was doing with this movie. With Elaine’s unfaltering embodiment of the impossible standards for women from the men she encounters, she becomes the force that destroys them. This movie portrays the deep, human need for love while also demonstrating its potential for turmoil. Read more about this subject and more fascinating input from Anna Biller in the interview with the AV Club cited in the Bibliography page.
I discover something new about this film every time I watch it (which is quite often, to be honest). Samantha Robinson’s handling of all parts of Elaine’s character, the passionate, the vulnerable, the powerful, the erotic, the fearful, the ethereal, and the loving, make for one of the most holistic horror performances shared in the last decade. Anna Biller and the cast created a subversive experience unlike any other with this dark, feminist satire. This film is an indulgence, and every scene is a dream. Fans of horror, camp, colorful aesthetics, and gothic romance are encouraged to see what this film is all about. I fell in love with The Love Witch from the very first frame, and I’ll never let it go.
Until next time,