Writer: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Laura Waddell, Gian Keys, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Robert Seeley
Running time: 120mins
What’s the story: Beautiful and alluring witch Elaine (Robinson), fleeing a marriage that ended messily, moves to a quiet town on the California coast. She begins concocting love spells to snare herself a man, but while the course of true love frequently runs red, it never runs smoothly.
What’s the verdict: Save for a single use of a mobile phone and a lone utterance of the word “skank”, The Love Witch could be mistaken for long-lost, recently discovered 70s classic.
Anna Biller may only have one previous film (2007’s Viva) and a handful of shorts to her name, but the woman knows cinema. Alongside writing and directing The Love Witch, she produced it. And edited it. And designed the costumes and sets. And decorated said sets. And was art and production designer. And composed segments of the score (also employing Ennio Morricone compositions plus tracks from other Italian movies).
Little surprise then that the star of The Love Witch is the film itself. Gorgeously shot on 35mm (by Extant cinematographer M. David Mullen) this is a giddy, gaudy, glorious pastiche of classic Hollywood melodrama, TV sitcoms and 70s Euro-sleaze.
With a sharp, witty feminist take on sex and sexual politics and a large dose of John Waters-style irony. But Waters, the Pope of Trash, never directed a film you literally wanted to eat off the screen.
Despite the design and preparation and spot-on stilted 50s style dialogue (“It was probably just too much for him; all the love and the great sex you were giving him”) a film like The Love Witch blossoms or wilts on its performances.
Thankfully, the largely unknown cast are pitch perfect. Robert Seeley and General Hospital alumnus Jeffrey Vincent Parise are perfectly pathetic as Elaine’s conquests, infatuated but ineffectual. Square-jawed one time competitive bodybuilder Gian Keys could have been transplanted from a 60s beach movie as Griff, the cop investigating recent suspicious deaths in the town, but not suspecting the bewitching Elaine.
Waddell is solid support as Elaine’s normal, suburban reflection Trish, but the standout is Robinson as the eponymous occultist l’amour. With cut-glass cheekbones and feline eyes, she could have walked off Valley of the Dolls and straight onto The Love Witch, and commands the screen with a star making performance of narcissism, longing, rage and self-doubt.
Generously applying layers of camp Satanism and white and black magic, The Love Witch casts women as literally a breed apart from their male bedfellows, imbued with magic and power Y-chromosome carriers cannot resist or understand and which prove their undoing.
Biller plays this for broad laughs more than horror, but first and foremost The Love Witch is the best exercise in big screen eroticism since Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy.
Biller sustains a thrilling sexual charge for most of the two hour running time, stockings, heels, flawless make-up, exquisitely tailored outfits, food and burlesque largely replacing onscreen rumpy-pumpy,
She also indulges herself in a couple of witches’ orgies, camp fairytale sequences and a funny subplot where local racists target resentment against witches that are “overrunning the town”.
While a 120 minute duration could be branded indulgent and pacing quickened in the second hour, The Love Witch is impossible not to fall for.
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