The Love Witch is a technicolor trip through the alleys of the campy horror films of a bygone era. The film possesses the power to conjure you into its silky skin, seduce you into its embrace and then leave you for dead as you fall into its aura of sexiness. Shot in grainy color palettes resembling the times it tries to imitate, The Love Witch is about a beautiful young woman named Elaine (Samantha Robinson) who is seen sipping on her cigarette wondering into a new town where she could find a replacement for her recently deceased ex-husband. Elaine practices witchcraft and her idea of a woman seem too outgoing and strange.“You sound as if you’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy,” a friend of her’s remarks. She is interested in men and doesn’t shy away from giving them pleasure. Be it cooking a wonderfully dished out meal or just making them feel good about themselves. She offers them the pleasure of her beautiful body, looking for the ‘one’ that could truly love her. As she uses magic spells and self-made love/sex potions, her hallucinating gaze often comes down to disappointment when men act like complete lovelorn fools.
What ensues later is a completely witchy saga that involves victorian era lady clubs, bourgeois strip joints, a murder in the woods, the over-the-top detective love tale, love occults, unforgettable betrayals, over-cooked love potions, and tampons drenched in period blood. Here’s where The Love Witch might sound too campy and thin in the narrative sense. However, what makes The Love Witch an incredibly striking feature is its self-awareness and one of the most simply put testaments of gender-politics. The film doesn’t present a female character that screams for apathy. On the contrary, the film, which is Biller’s supposedly autobiographical (take it as a joke if you may) sketch is based on the discrepancy between men and women. She investigates the very fact that relationships can be made and broken on the ground of small things and how difficult it has become to find that ‘someone’ who will stay without caring about anything more than who the person in front really is.
There are very few films that I could remember that manage to weave its narrative around witchcraft and modern magic. Modern magic, which is often considered as a refinement of medieval magic – the esoteric practice that were formulated in Europe during the era between antiquity and the Renaissance induces an incredible energy of control over anyone. Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut are two films that come to my mind that touch on the subject of the incredible power of medieval magic. There’s a segment in The Love Witch which features the age old myth of burning a woman whose power of controlling the opposite sex reaches highs of unstoppability. “Burn The Witch” they shout, as one of the very few mysteries in The Love Witch is about the unfold. Biller’s film is probably the only film that understands ‘Modern Magic/Witchcraft’ and the power it gives you in a modern society that’s too blind to look beyond the obvious.
“I thought I might have overdone it.” says a character in The Love Witch about the beautifully designed apartment that the protagonist is about to be in. It’s interesting how Biller’s film could feel a tad too on the face to anyone who isn’t aware that this is a masterwork when you consider how delicately every set detail and design has been hand-crafted in order to replicate an era of the technicolor melodrama in the late 60s. Not only are the costumes pitch perfect but every single aspect of the film oozes with an incredible love for films of the past. Biller creates an astounding homage that single-handedly kills every other attempt made at replicating the era of the B-town madness in yesteryears.
The Love Witch is prudent to hate, mostly because of its patience testing runtime. Clocking at 2 hours, certain episodes in The Love Witch feel redundant and over-stretched. What the usual film-watching audience will probably overlook is the fact that it is a throwback, a homage to an era where some insane plotlines would jell up and make no sense on a regular basis. For a film that is too self-aware and conscious, I give the overlong runtime a stilted thumbs-up as I understand Anna Biller’s passion to formulate a cinematic language of her own. Watching The Love Witch is like obsessing over your hidden stash of goodies, one that your parents caught you with and the ones that you fatally argue of not being the owner of, yet secretly adore.