The success of The Witch, followed by the similarly titled by wholly unrelated The Love Witch, will hopefully herald in a new wave of witchcraft related films. Through a modern lens, what we associate with witchcraft can be viewed differently than what has come before, and both of those films manage to tell refreshing stories with a dark aesthetic. Applying present-day feminist knowledge to the historical persecution of women makes sense, plus witches are downright cool.
While The Witch was rooted firmly in horror, The Love Witch is more immediately recognisable due to its 60s feel. The colours are soft, the acting is overblown, and the dialogue is downright silly. A horror story involving death this may be, but it is never anything less than fun.
Elaine is a young and beautiful witch, convinced she has men sussed. By assertively and aggressively giving men what they want, she seeks to have control over them. By using a combination of confidence and sex magic, she searches for someone who will love her properly and fully, but disaster strikes as men are unable to deal with their feelings or are too weak for her.
Samantha Robinson is the star of the show as Elaine, commanding in her magnetic beauty mixed with a troubled approach to romance. Robinson gracefully switches between alluring and murderous, socially acceptable and a bit batty. Elaine is the centre of this story, requiring a strong presence and memorable performance, and Robinson nails it.
The Love Witch’s appeal is divisive in itself. Some will be drawn to how it is presented, and others will love the absurdity of the witchcraft, but it makes no allowances for those who will struggle with either. Its proudly feminist director Anna Biller has made a clever film about gender politics that seems overt on the surface, but has a lot going on underneath. A key conversation late in the film about Elaine’s approach to relationships explains (justifies?) her actions, and unravels a lot of events prior in a revelatory way. The theme of witchcraft itself can be examined through a feminist lens, as can the nudity involved here and in films of its ilk from the 60s.
The Love Witch is great, clever, and memorable. Its length is a hindrance, and could easily lose about 20 minutes without losing any of its punch. It is sharp and witty, beautiful and dangerous, and will really appeal to fans of what it is going for. When it meanders into style over substance it loses some of that enjoyability factor, but what a style it is.