The Love Witch's irony couldn’t be any sharper
Starring Samantha Robinson. Rating unavailable
Filmmaker Anna Biller’s bag is to painstakingly re-create the aesthetics of ’60s and ’70s sexploitation film, complete with deliberately tone-deaf and stilted dialogue, and then use it as a back door for some winking feminist satire. The Love Witch is her most accomplished creation yet, a 35mm Technicolor triumph that works as the gonzo flip side to Robert Eggers’s super-earnest The Witch. With or without the yucks, each views its subject as a unique and historically real preserve of feminine power.
With her catlike eyes exaggerated by mauve shadow, Samantha Robinson is already supernaturally beautiful as Elaine, a practising witch who ditches San Francisco for one of those coastal hamlets with the winding cliffside highways you already know from countless Nixon-era TV Movies of the Week—another element in Biller’s persuasively coherent grand unified theory of American movie kitsch. There, Samantha pursues her obsession with love magic, drumming up a string of victims, including her landlady’s husband, and then (hilariously) reducing them to whimpering, lovesick babies, or worse. (Always be suspicious of any “witch bottle” containing urine and a used tampon, kids!) Biller’s smartest move here is to pathologize the culture, not the putative villain. Elaine’s pursuit of an impossible male ideal forms a destructive habit with no way out, and the irony couldn’t be any sharper.
Like Viva, her last film, The Love Witch is a tad too long—those Doris Wishman and Roberta Findlay movies that used to play in Times Square barely broke the 60-minute mark—but any longueur in narrative at least gives us the chance to luxuriate in Biller’s hyper-detailed production, daubed in saturated blocks of red, purple, pink, and yellow, larded with nudity and gloriously silly rituals, and then dotted with anachronistic computers and cellphones. It might not make Sight & Sound’s year-end list, but viewed on its own terms, The Love Witch is some sort of classic.