'The Love Witch': Film Review

The Love Witch Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

The Love Witch Still - Publicity - H 2016

Casts a wickedly entertaining spell.

An alluring witch uses her powers to find love in Anna Biller's stylish thriller inspired by American and European sexploitation horror films of the late '60s and early '70s.

Destined to be a cult classic, this sophomore effort by Anna Biller (Viva) is a heady throwback to the American and European sexploitation horror films of the late '60s and early '70s. Shot in glorious 35mm and featuring a vibrant color palette that makes Technicolor seem like sepia, The Love Witch is an expertly executed homage that works brilliantly on its own original terms. Being given its latest festival showcase at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAM Cinemafest, the film is slated for a theatrical release via Oscilloscope later this year.

Samantha Robinson plays the title role of Elaine, a beautiful, sexy witch desperate to find love and willing to use her demonic powers to fulfill her desires. Moving to a quaint northern California town filled with fellow practitioners of dark magic, she instantly bonds with her friendly landlord Trish (Laura Waddell), joining her for a mid-afternoon repast at a local hangout, "The Victorian Tea Room," complete with a harpist.

The sort of stunner who literally turns heads as she walks down the street, Elaine first sets her sights on Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), a bohemian college professor who can barely contain his surprised delight when upon their first meeting she suggests that they spend the night together. Off they go to his remote cabin where she cooks him an elaborate dinner — red meat, of course — and offers him a libation that she's concocted herself. "To nature," she toasts.

Wayne soon discovers that the drink contains a powerful hallucinogenic, and can barely stand up straight afterwards. Nonetheless, he and Elaine make passionate love, and the next morning he's an emotional wreck, weepy and utterly overcome.

Elaine is not impressed. "What a pussy," she mutters to herself.

He unexpectedly dies not long later, and Elaine buries him in the backyard, placing in his grave a glass jar filled with her urine and a used tampon so that a part of her will be with him always. She derisively comments that "most men have never even seen a used tampon."

Wayne's death naturally prompts an investigation by a pair of detectives, including the square-jawed Griff (Gian Keys, looking like he stepped out of a '60s-era melodrama) who, upon seeing his suspect, decides that she couldn't possibly be guilty of anything. He falls progressively under her spell, setting in motion an increasingly violent series of mystical events.

Suffusing its genre conventions with sly feminist commentary on the relations between the sexes, the pic offers as much for the mind as the eye, and that's saying something. Every visual aspect is absolutely gorgeous, from the brilliant use of color to the painterly compositions to the gloriously lush sets and costumes that Biller herself designed. The filmmaker displays an amazing grasp of the medium, including a soundtrack that features her own compositions as well as selections from Ennio Morricone and several vintage Italian movies. She's also elicited committed performances from her excellent ensemble. They never seem to be winking at their campy roles, especially Robinson, whose intense performance is alluring in a way that goes far beyond her lithe dancer's body and stunning looks.

Running a solid two hours, The Love Witch might have benefited from some trimming, with several segments depicting wiccan rituals going on a bit too long. But that's a minor quibble about this smart, sexy horror film, which should particularly enthrall genre fans.  

Venue: BAM Cinemafest
Distributor: Oscilloscope
Production company: Anna Biller Productions
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum, Randy Evans, Clive Ashborn, Lily Holleman, April Showers, Stephen Wozniak
Director-screenwriter-producer-editor-production designer-costume designer-composer: Anna Biller
Executive producer: Jared Sanford
Director of photography: M. David Mullen

Not rated, 120 minutes