The Love Witch Review
The Love Witch doesn’t quite manage to cast its spell
Desperate to find her Prince Charming, Elaine casts a spell over the men in her life in The Love Witch.On the surface thisis a film that looks like an homage or at least a love letter to 1960s technicolor horror films, with all the potential to be something truly unique and marvellous. But with blatant attempts to appeal to the feminist within and messages that reduce men to heartless stereotypes, somewhere along the way it just gets confusing. Still troubled over the recent end of her marriage, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) leaves San Francisco in hopes of a new beginning. Elaine drives along the coast in her sexy red convertible against rear projection, dressed in a matching red ensemble, with long dark locks and bright eye makeup, with all the makings for a fantastically retro and nostalgic looking film.Arriving in a small town Elaine moves into her new apartment courtesy of her friend and fellow witch, Barbra (Jennifer Ingrum). The house itself is beautifully dark and gothic on the outside and on the inside packs in an insane amount of detail. Elaine quickly makes friends with the former tenant Trish (Laura Waddell), an English interior designer. Over afternoon tea the two ladies talk marriage, love and loss. It’s here that the underlying theme becomes evident: Elaine wants to find true love. The poor girl seems to have everything, good looks, a killer wardrobe and confidence but all she wants is to find her very own Prince Charming. And so Elaine begins her search for love using magic to cast spells over potential suitors.
You’ve got to hand it to Anna Biller who wrote, produced and directed The Love Witch - in fact she also designed the costumes, edited and even composed some of the music for the film. Through such a tight control over the project Biller’s vision is fully realised on screen in every aspect. Inspired by women’s pictures from old Hollywood and Laura Mulvey’s essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Biller set out to make a film that explores the idea of ‘woman’. Using the idea of witches as a basis to construct her characters, Biller investigates the conflation between female power and female sexuality through the perfect casting of Robinson as Elaine.
There is no doubt that the film is, for the most part, incredibly pleasing to watch based on the detail and style alone. Working closely with cinematographer M. David Mullen, Biller utilises light for maximum impact, resulting in a depth and glamour that is almost sickly sweet. The film is shot entirely on film which adds to the vintage quality to the look, combined with the music taken from Ennio Morricone soundtracks as well as other Italian soundtracks, makes it feel as though you’re watching an old American melodrama with a dark and twisted edge. The quick zooms, kaleidoscopic camera effects and sharp glares make it feel like a step back in time. Even the acting is reminiscent of those old Hollywood womens' films, stilted and almost over acted but in a way befitting of the whole film. Two hours is a fairly reasonable duration for any film, but the second hour of The Love Witch was hard going with long periods with not a lot going on, which although good for absorbing the set pieces, did feel dragged out (the renaissance fair scene for example was especially hard going).
Anna Biller pays so much attention to the tiniest of details that it seems she forgot what it was she was trying to achieve
Despite the indisputable amount of hard work and effort that’s gone into bringing this project to life it doesn’t quite make up for the lack of actual story, and that old saying ‘style over substance’ definitely comes to mind. With what is ultimately a fairly simple tale of love and a wanting to be loved there is an abundance of confusing and mixed messages woven into it. It seems to desperately try and examine the idea of how women think they should behave in order to secure happiness through the love of a man but in doing so it reduces men to comical and pathetic stereotypes and presents the lead female character as a crazed maniac, driven to insanity in her efforts to please men through her sexual prowess.
I definitely found it a confusing film to watch. Elaine’s character has different sides – just like we all have – but aside from presenting her as visually pleasing there aren’t any other redeeming qualities to her character so it was impossible to even remotely identify to her character at all. Maybe I’m missing the point completely and its real message went straight over my head because I left the screening feeling mostly annoyed at its portrayal of women and its degradation of men. Perhaps it’s intended to be satirical or even a parody of gender roles today, you know, a bit tongue in cheek. I think that despite its misgivings it probably could do with a second viewing if only to try and look past what’s visually on offer. Whatever its intention it’s sure to spark debate and conversation, but perhaps not quite for the right reasons.
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