Combining the gaudy kitsch of a ‘60s fantasy B-movie with a modern day setting and a devilish sense of humour, while interspersing all of the above with discussions of feminist theory, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch earns an enormous amount of credit for originality alone. From the off, it’s clear that The Love Witch is aesthetically unlike almost any other movie released in recent years, from the colour palette to the very particular look of pre-‘70s movie driving. Though its commitment to its idiosyncrasies sometimes smothers its story, you won’t see anything else like it in 2017, making it one of the more enjoyable watches of the early year.
Taking place in a world where witches exist and are publically tolerated, we first pick up the story as Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a witch with a penchant for love potions, moves to a sleepy town after she seemingly kills her fiancé. She swiftly befriends her new landlord Trish (Laura Waddell), and all appears to be going well until one of the town’s more eligible bachelors ends up dead at Elaine’s hands. With a pattern emerging, local tough cop Griff (Gian Keys) begins an investigation that Elaine seeks to stop by marrying him.
It’s a loose plot, and one that much of the film’s 2 hour runtime ignores, instead taking in distractions like a Renaissance Fair wedding, and an uninterrupted lecture on feminine sexuality. It makes for an oddly paced piece, and the whole thing is undoubtedly too long, but ensures a greater immersion into the strange world that Biller creates. And what a world it is. Gaudy, saturated colours fill every frame, and kaleidoscopic flashbacks meld with the costumes and sets (all designed by Biller on top of her writing, directing and editing duties) to create a bizarre and intoxicating world of ‘60s sensibilities and modern technology.
Deliberately wooden acting completes the illusion of an old-style technicolour romp. Jarring at first, you swiftly become used to it, and it’s a technique that lends itself to plenty of very silly laughs. As man after man proves himself unworthy of Elaine, the film only gets funnier – a scene in which she comforts a self-described bohemian weeping at the fact that no woman is both smart and beautiful enough for him is a particular highlight. However, this trope does also mean that some of the intricacies of the, very clever, writing get lost, a shame when it’s as packed with double meanings and jokes as it is here.
Full of frank and uncompromising nudity, and featuring a decent amount of bloody demises, The Love Witch seems sure to become a midnight viewing cult hit (though its classification as a horror is somewhat baffling, seeing as there isn’t a single scary scene). Smart, funny, and made with singular vision by a ridiculously multitalented auteur, it’s a lurid and campy throwback with plenty more in its locker than just its impeccable sense of style.