Studio: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Director: Anna Biller
Writer: Anna Biller
Producer: Anna Biller
Stars: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum, Randy Evans
Consumed by a desire to find love, an eccentric witch uses her craft to run through a string of romances that end in murder.
Ever since her ex-husband Jerry left (she actually killed him, but blissfully chooses to remember their parting differently), Elaine has been anxious to fill the heart-shaped hole she has been conditioned to believe exists. Recently reborn as a witch, Elaine splits San Francisco and sets her sights squarely on that singular goal of finding the ideal man so she can commit herself completely to a life ruled by romance.
Dripping with the head-turning sixties style of a satanic Megan Draper, Elaine already attracts endless sets of lusting eyes. Yet it is her potent potion of hallucinogenic herbs and black magic that condemns men to go mad for the unassumingly wicked woman.
When their overemotional obsession becomes too heavy to handle, these unlucky suitors then find themselves dumped into Elaine’s winding wake of broken hearts and buried bodies. With an eye-rolling sigh, it’s on to the next man in line for true love, even if Elaine doesn’t fully grasp her own conception of what that love should look like.
No one seems able to resist Elaine’s witchy wiles and there is no one she won’t put under a spell to get what she is convinced should be hers. This includes a confident college professor, a friend’s lonely husband, and especially the homicide detective investigating Elaine for murder.
As a fractured fable with a blackly comic heart of tranquil horror, the slow burn story inside “The Love Witch” leaves something to be desired. Yet while its soap opera satire might fizzle, the enchanting artistry behind Anna Biller’s Technicolor romance mixed in a pulp fiction mood absolutely sizzles.
If you were to randomly stumble onto the movie while flipping channels during a lazy Sunday afternoon, it would be a minute before suspecting “The Love Witch” comes from the 21st century. Contemporary cars and other items leave the setting purposefully undefined, though the visual style is decidedly retro in a way that should only be possible through time travel. Every detail from the curl of each hairstyle to the color of a coat’s lining is period perfect to either sixties cinema sensibilities or satanic seventies chic.
When a long shot establishes a burlesque cabaret exterior, the mental image immediately conjured of the club’s probable interior includes red curtains, buttoned leather booth seats, and lamps shaded by green ceramic. Sure enough, the camera cuts to a mirror image shot seemingly pulled directly from the mind’s eye’s expectations.
Although the sets, makeup, and costumes, all of which were designed by Biller, are invested in fulfilling an immersive illusion, there is also restraint preventing the sensory takeover from becoming an overwhelming parody of itself. Biller doesn’t resort to gimmickry such as a post-production film scratch filter. Rather, details feature naturally as seamless additions to backgrounds and characters. Nothing is cluttered by an attempt to overdo the effort.
When Gian Keys enters the screen as police officer Griff, he looks like he stepped off the set of “Adam-12.” It isn’t simply hairstyles and wardrobe. Remarkably, the cast physically resembles people of a past era in facial features and stature.
“The Love Witch” is a triumphant turn for Anna Biller busying herself as writer, director, and producer, as well as the primary person responsible for sets and costuming. The film is undeniably her unique vision. However, what completes it is M. David Mullen’s exquisite D.P. work behind the camera. Grass is a ridiculous shade of vibrant green. Light bounces with a signature sixties star effect off metal and glass. It’s impressive to see the production design come together and a sumptuous film to watch for fans fascinated by cinematography.
Biller may have fallen under her own spell and become so hypnotized by her movie that she couldn’t bear to balance it for rhythm. Speculation suggests that by editing the film herself, Biller’s meticulous construction of everything from eyeliner to tablecloths had her seeing artistic import in more frames than have meaning. We don’t really need every second of Elaine and her friend Trish cutting cake, pouring tea, and walking to the couch before settling into a conversation, for instance. As a result, “The Love Witch” is bloated by a two-hour runtime and the tempo suffers for it.
A significant side effect of dragging out the duration is the permission granted to tune out of thematic under and overtones. “The Love Witch” may or may not function as an editorial on contemporary female sexuality and traditional gender roles. Something is certainly said by paralleling Elaine’s subservient role as a ceremonial altar against how she conducts personal sex on her own terms when instructing, “you can make love to me now.” What that something is, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily heard as revelatory commentary when interest starts waning in a lull.
Even though some of the former is lost in the latter, Anna Biller shouts with a strong voice of feminist empowerment through one-of-a-kind instincts for cinematic bravura. As a sophomore feature, “The Love Witch” is an achievement for Biller that many indie filmmakers would kill to have as a calling card. Even if you don’t connect with the content, you’ll almost certainly appreciate the conception and admire the presentation.
Review Score: 75