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The Love Witch

This retro horror-comedy dissecting cinematic sexism is pure movie magic.
By Sarah Ward
February 22, 2017
By Sarah Ward
February 22, 2017

When A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night gave the world the first Persian-language feminist vampire western, we were kind of amazed. But that's nothing compared to how we feel about what is likely the world's first supernatural feminist sex horror-comedy shot like a '60s technicolour dream and plotted like a '70s sexploitation flick. It may sound like a lot to fit into one film, but if anyone is up to the task, it's writer, director, producer, composer, editor and production/costume designer Anna Biller. The end result of her efforts is The Love Witch, and it's absolutely bewitching.

Biller's film follows modern-day enchantress Elaine (a purposefully stilted Samantha Robinson) as she attempts to secure what movies tell us that all women want. Yes, we're talking about romance. After a troubled past, she heads to Northern California to start a new life and hopefully find new love – and she's willing to do anything to get what she wants. That means flirting and getting physical, and unholy magic too. Alas, soon her antics start working a little too well, and the bodies of her suitors begin piling up.

While The Love Witch is all about the supernatural, the biggest magic trick Biller pulls off is subverting our expectations. Although it initially seems to conform to a recognisable template, the film uses its retro stylings to probe, break  down and parody big screen conventions, from tiresome boy meets girl tropes to the endless horror films about women in peril.

All of those kinds of films — the rom-coms, and the thrillers about infatuation gone wrong — typically follow the same old formula when it comes to meeting, connecting and navigating the fallout. What they don't do is explore just why and how relationships come together; not in a birds and bees way, but in the methods and conventions that have sprung up around courtship, dating routines, gender roles, female fantasies and the like. Here, as Biller chronicles Elaine's exploits, she also dissects the reasoning for her actions. It's as bright and refreshing as the movie's vivid colour palette — and trust us, those vibrant frames really are a sight to behold.

Indeed, The Love Witch doesn't just cast a seductive spell with its ideas. The vision and artistry Biller displays in every retro-styled piece of fabric and shade of eyeshadow ensures the movie is an eye-popping delight. In fact, the only negative energy flows from the film's length, with the latter half sometimes dragging. Still, a few more minutes of movie than might be necessary is a small price to pay for what's otherwise a piece of cinematic magic.

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