Review: The Love Witch
Director: Anna Biller
By Rhys Tarling
Twisted and wry, The Love Witch is a freaky and off-beat motion picture from writer/director Anna Biller.
Elaine is a beautiful young witch who is determined to find a man who’ll love her. She conjures up love potions in her apartment in order to seal the deals. However, the potions work a little too well and so she leaves a trail of victims in her wake. When a couple of detectives are hot on Elaine’s trail, The Love Witch fully lays bare its intelligent feminist commentary and proudly lurid heart.
Aesthetically speaking, it’s one of the most pleasurable films I’ve ever seen. Every single scene is exquisitely detailed and colourful, but never to the point where it overwhelms the senses. It’s shot on 35mm film to give it that classical feel (you couldn’t be blamed for thinking this film is from the 60s). The compositions are perfect yet never showy – Biller is strikingly fluent in the language of cinema. Also, every prop was handcrafted by the director herself. The Love Witch, in between its bouts of strange cruelty, is as personal and warm as a hug.
Though the style is old, the intent is modern – the monster isn’t a mysterious succubus devil ripped from a 50s pulp novel, but a love-starved human being who’s tired of having her body used as a garbage can by men. The tragedy is that she uses “sex magic as a way to unlock love magic” and is always disappointed when the unflattering aspects of love come blubbering out of the masculine men’s mouth, eyes, and nose. “What a pussy,” she sneers in one of the film’s many unexpectedly gut busting moments. “Pooooor baby,” she drawls in another.
Samantha Robinson gives a movie star worthy performance as Elaine. She’s reminiscent of the alluring sociopath ladies from old European films such as Catherine Deneuve in 1967’s Belle de Jour – mesmerising, bored, and terrifyingly unpredictable. Gian Keys as the detective on the case radiates a warmth and an old fashioned stoicism, which makes it that much funnier when he does or says manfully buffoonish things. Both, along with the rest of the cast, give performances befitting the odd tone; a tone located somewhere between sincere melodrama and a postmodern campy genre sendup.
The Love Witch runs at the briskest 120 minutes ever. This is because, despite its indulgence (not a criticism, Versailles is indulgent too), every single moment has clarity and purpose and flawlessly builds to the succeeding scene. Forget its sexy uniqueness and general oddness; structurally this is as solid as something as unsexy as a brick-house. And that’s what matters most of all.
Personally, this is my favourite so far of the films playing at Revelation Film Festival. See it and be rendered giddy with the purest joy that cinema has to offer.
The Love Witch will be showing at Luna Leederville on Friday 15 July and Luna SX on Sunday 17 July.