Ready to fall under a spell? Tumble captive to The Love Witch. With every shot a saturated, gorgeous explosion of 35mm kitsch perfection, this elaborate send-up of 1960s and ’70s occult sexploitation films boils and toils over a bubblin’ cauldron of sheer spectacle.
The film is clearly the work of an obsessed mind, with auteur Anna Biller writing, directing, editing, taking charge of the multi-period production design and art direction and even composing the off-the-wall musical numbers. Her creation aims for gender-role satire as well as lush visual splendor. Although not witty enough to truly devastate, it scores some hits on a few sacred cows roaming ’round the post-feminist bullpen. And throughout, you can’t take your eyes off the screen—you’re waiting to see what marvel Biller and cinematographer M. David Mullen will conjure up next.
Surreally pretty Samantha Robinson, luscious in every frame, plays Elaine, a witch hitting the California road to escape her unhappy past. She’s addicted to love, using her supernatural powers to ensorcel, trap, and doom the hapless objects of her crushes. And she won’t settle for anything less than a perfect man. Like any woman pursuing an illusion, she is soon disappointed, and bodies start to pile up before you know it.
Elaine is on a bizarre journey, and so are we. Witch’s stilted line readings recall a weird in-between period in movie history, when clipped, old-school B-movie speech uneasily tried to make the mellow transition to the Age of Aquarius. Prism effects, snap zooms, and heavy color filters blow out multiple scenes to an Ennio Morricone–styled soundtrack, while the story zigs and zags through different time periods. Meanwhile, jittery, intense secondary players jack up the weird energy. You’re sucked in by the visuals and the groovy action when you aren’t being rattled by the sudden communal nudity.
The loopy and intriguing turns never seem to end. One busy scene in a strip bar incorporates feminism, witchcraft, and go-go dancing—talk about intersectionality. Other bits send up bad acid trips, Renaissance faires, mob hysteria and the pink-and-white hyperfeminine styling of the old Stepford Wives movie. It would be easy to evoke all these ideas and stylistic quirks in a slapdash, careless way, but most every shot holds up gloriously.
For all its tweaking of pop culture oddities, The Love Witch manages to get in a few deft potshots at a stereotypical princess-y romantic obsession and a beautiful woman’s narcissistic sense of entitlement. Male shortcomings receive their comeuppance, too, as Biller mocks lust-crazed wimps and square-jawed macho types. The script also devotes special scorn to a 1960s type we don’t see much of anymore: an aging, pompous guru/charlatan (Jared Sanford), who hopes to seduce gullible females with his satyr’s gaze.
Like the dated butt of its jokes, The Love Witch can drag. At two hours, it’s too long. But it is unique, ambitious, and a vivid curiosity all its own. Catch this compellingly weird movie before it vanishes.