Filmmaker Anna Billers THE LOVE WITCH is a stylish, disarming, allegorical soap-opera.
(This review previously appeared on SHOCK here)
Watching Anna Billers latest film, THE LOVE WITCH, (which played Fantasia 2016 on July 16th) is an almost painful experience.
Painful in that it is such an embarrassment of beauty, of color and style, of humor and rhythm and sound. Indeed, Billers sense of cinema here, particularly of a certain 70s vintage, is so vividly realized that the viewer is left feeling somewhat inebriated, dizzy and powerless to resist it.
Not that youd actually want to resist it.
Better that you just surrender fully, completely to it.
Biller, whose previous film, 2007s delirious sexploitation fantasy VIVA, was almost as swoon-worthy an experience, is clearly in love with vintage European sex thrillers, American drive-in melodramas (in particular, the lush, technicolor films coming out of the Crown International camp) and 60s pulp novels and she employs that passion to construct the exterior of her arch fable.
THE LOVE WITCHs colors are blinding, its art decoration, mise en scene and costumes (designed by Biller) are stunning. The tone of the picture veers maniacally between dissonant voice overs, stylized stilted dialogue exchanges, stag loop erotica, Jess Franco-esque nightclub hang-outs, romantic mania, serious drama, absurdist comedy and sometimes gory violence. But underneath all of its affectation lurks a powerful study of the differences between the sexes and the often disastrous results that these opposing philosophies on love and human relations can yield when left unchecked.
The film stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine, an impossibly beautiful woman who drives down the California coast and moves into a beautiful Victorian apartment while connecting with her coven, a group of local witches who practice their pagan faith openly, under the suspicious eyes of the community. Elaine immediately befriends her chipper landlord (Laura Waddell, who is hilarious and, by the end of the film, heartbreaking) and the two lunch often and discuss their shared man troubles and triumphs. Perhaps befriend is the wrong word, because outside of her dabbling in witchcraft, Elaine is a more than a bit of a narcissist, completely self-absorbed and unable to fathom why she cannot find and keep love.
When she meets a comically upbeat college professor, they immediately head for the handsome teachers cabin in the woods for impromptu sex. Elaine urges her new lover to sip from her flask, the likes of which contains a swampy mix of herbs and hell itself; soon the poor smitten schmuck is in the thralls of Elaines industrial strength love potion, which causes him to become a weeping, hysterical mess of a man. In her always amusing voice over, wherein we get to hear her most private and sociopathic thoughts, we discover that Elaine is repulsed by such behaviors, even though she herself is responsible for them.
We quickly learn that the lady is indeed quite mad, warped through years of trying and failing to be what she thinks men want her to be.
After the teacher dies from his amorous afflictions, Elaine digs a grave and buries the man with a fetish of her urine and one of her used tampons (Women bleed, its beautiful, she muses on the soundtrack, And most men have never even seen a used tampon )
After this bizarre, mesmerizing first quarter, THE LOVE WITCH keeps meandering around its increasingly deranged narrative, with Elaine stopping at nothing in her lethal quest for love. To reveal more of the plot or various vignettes would be to ruin Billers sweet symphony or perversion, eccentricity and social indictment, but suffice to say that Elaines selfish, unrealistic dreams never come true. They cant.
THE LOVE WITCH is a kind of horror movie but its far more than just that. Its as much a vibrant, daring art installation as it is a kind of highly sexualized vintage movie of the week; its unabashedly lurid and soap opera-steeped and the stunning Robinson is ever-lovely to look at, taking up as she does, virtually every frame of the film. But at its core, Biller has so much more to say; about the hypocrisy of feminism, about finding true freedom, about the male gaze, about the very definition of love. This is a fiercely intelligent, visionary work hiding in the skin of a trashy exploitation movie bauble and it firmly locks-in Biller in as one of the most exciting filmmakers alive.
We cannot wait to see what she does next.