[THE LOVE WITCH screens Saturday July 22nd at 9:25 pm and Sunday July 24th at 6:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Eric Sever
garish and cheap, the exploitation films of the late Sixties and early
Seventies - particularly gothic European horrors -- were filled with
lusty, bloody women, who were almost always relegated to being prey for
some creature (often with strong sexual overtones) or to being
villainous eye candy.
In THE LOVE WITCH,
writer/director Anna Biller reimagines that later femme fatale
archetype, lovingly throwing in all the old Satanic film tropes - tarot
cards, candles, potions, pentagrams, black robes, and nude altars.
young, witchy heroine Elaine (played by the gorgeous Samantha Robinson)
is seductive, dangerous, and sexually aggressive, but she is also a
woman who operates from an outdated "Stepford Wives" standard of
femininity. She uses her powers almost exclusively to find and to please
men. She believes that this should be the ultimate goal for any woman.
embodies a dark beauty, violent prowess, and an almost supernatural
confidence in herself, like most of the vixens from that film era. Yet,
this character is constructed as a fully fleshed out woman who is not
always very likeable. She is lonely, flawed, and sometimes even
pathetic, but this all makes her more real and complex than those
hellcats in old exploitation pictures.
Biller takes it
a step further and portrays many "how-the-sausage-is-made" moments that
are usually off limits in the somewhat idolized female characters of
that time. Elaine's striking, long hair turns out to be just a wig, and
she - dare I say it - even uses tampons!
In a subplot
that brilliantly pays off, Elaine's cocky front may actually just be
hiding a fragile psyche and a slowly loosening grip on reality, perhaps
even some form of mental illness.
On the surface, the
visuals rather gloriously capture the look of the late Sixties, but
several subtle blips are dropped throughout the film -- modern cars, a
cell phone -- that make it clear the story is indeed set in modern
It is an anachrostic gimmick that cleverly
reflects Biller's examination of where romance now stands since the
mid-century Women's Liberation days. Much like the incongruous
aesthetic, the tone is appropriately hokey and dated at times, but this
belies the film's clever insights into the contemporary battle of the
sexes, leading to a somewhat sad but poignant ending.
seems to place much of the blame on the current state of "women in
love" on women themselves. Elaine is her own worst enemy, and quite
literally she sabotages the only thing she really wants. In a broader
sense, Biller seems to say that many of our modern relationships are
ruined by our own unrealistic expectations, and that our preoccupation
with the fantasy of love often corrupts the reality.
not only helmed this ship, but she also served as producer, art
designer, and production designer. She created the retro costumes,
decorated the pitch-perfect sets, and wrote the music. Clearly, this is
was a passion project for her, and she knocks it out of the park on
almost every level.
Certainly though, some of the
visual success of the film must be credited to cinematographer M. David
Mullen. His excellent use of fast zooms, prismatic lenses, and
hallucenogenic, brightly-hued lighting all perfectly capture the style
of that era of filmmaking.
Respectfully paying homage while still subverting the old witchcraft cliches, THE LOVE WITCH
is a visually stunning, rainbow-colored slice of the psychodelic era,
in all of its chain-smoking, blue-eye-shadowed glory. Yet behind its
exploitation-mimicking facade lies a decidedly modern parable.
that we all have more power than ever to find a love that is right for
us, are we strong enough to actually make it work? 3 1/2 out of 4 stars