Saturday, 18 March 2017

Review: The Love Witch

The Love Witch
Cert: 15 / 118 mins / Dir. Anna Biller / Trailer

I'm not going to mess about, I loved The Love Witch. A unique film with an incredibly limited UK release window, I was lucky enough to catch it on a big screen. It's the story of Elaine, a practitioner of magic who's intent on using her not-inconsiderable skills to secure a partner she can truly love. But with the immaculately laid paving of good intentions, she finds that an outcome as complicated and fickle as the one she wants can't simply be conjured out of thin air. Long story short, death ensues. Obviously. And with amusing consequences. Not so obviously.

Director Anna Biller's master-stroke is drenching the film with the stylistic and visual aesthetic of the 1960s occult-horror genre, from the wardrobe and sets all the way through to the framing and colour palette, and then having a character pull up in a brand new BMW. Or sit in front of a TFT monitor. Or pull out a mobile. And when these things happen, they're not presented as any great Shyamalanian™ reveal, they're just part of the chronologically androgynous world we're visiting. I think what I love most about The Love Witch is the act that it exists; that it's been made in the twenty first century. I'm usually very wary of a project when it's written, produced and directed (plus set-designed, costume-designed and song-written) by the same person. But the strength and uniqueness of Biller's vision here is such I know it's that's the only way this project would have gotten off the ground in the first place.

Front and centre of the film, of course, is Samantha Robinson as the eponymous sorceress. She's every bit as beguiling and magnetic as Elaine needs to be, thanks to her ability to change the tone of a scene with the twitch of a cheek, and her invaluable counterpart in cinematographer Merritt Mullen. The supporting cast (lead chiefly by Laura Waddell) commit to the film with the same dramatic abandon, the end result being as camp as a row of tents and as arch as the Welland Viaduct. I basically sat and grinned with varying levels of intensity for two hours straight.

The pacing feels a little uneven as the film goes on, not quite as episodic as it perhaps needs to be and slightly to long for the story's own good. But every minute spent in The Love Witch's gothic, psychedelic world is an absolute delight anyway, and I still wanted more as the credits rolled. But I know that much of what I loved was down to the film's surface, and there's much, much more to the screenplay*1. I shall enjoy re-watching this many times.

Acerbic, sumptuous and utterly charming. In the face of such cinematic magnificence, this feels like a shoddy review. I can't do The Love Witch the justice it deserves. That's Anna Biller's job and one at which she's excelled…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
There are echoes of 1970's The Dunwich Horror, Hot Fuzz, Rocky Horror and Tarantino's Death Proof. Although The Love Witch is also completely its own thing.
But if you enjoyed any of those, you should love this

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The low-key release of this niche and future-cult movie means that you may not get the opportunity (I had to hunt it out at an indie cinema in the capital), but it's made for a late-night group audience.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Anna Biller and Samantha Robinson will have to work pretty hard to top this. I'll be watching with eager expectation either way..

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Hell no, I'm already counting off the friends and colleagues I won't be able to recommend this to (or at least, the ones I know will take me to task afterward, if I do).

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film's got Laura Waddell in it, who did voice-work for the Batman: Arkham Origins game along with Steve 'Zeb' Blum and Grey 'Ventress' DeLisle.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I particularly liked the way the film gleefully plays with gender stereotyping, and it's too bad I never read Below-The-Line on review sites, as I'm sure The Love Witch has launched countless misguided and unintentionally-comical diatribes by basement-dwelling mansplainers worldwide. It's all I can bear that that shit's quote-tweeted into my timeline for systematic scorn and deconstruction, I certainly can't go actively seeking it out.[ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. I found plenty to like about this film (the set design, costume design was all magnificent), with all the effort Anna Biller put into her film, you’ll left without a shadow of doubt she is the author of this film.

    However, I have reservations. I read an interesting interview in Sight and Sound (worth a read if you haven’t) where she states that 80% of reviews completely missed the point of the film by calling sexploitation or trash or any other word that is used to describe those 60, 70s like films.

    The film isn’t any of those things, but why make the film in a style which is based in that era if you wanted to avoid such comparisons? Because of the style the film was made I can why people reached that conclusion, even if it is the ‘wrong’ one. If, as Anna Biller said, 80% of people misread her film then perhaps she is at fault for failing to convey her message effectively enough? Maybe. I don’t know.

    Like you, the pace was little problematic but I felt it overstayed its welcome by about 30 minutes. Like you said, it’s a unique film…but one that didn’t click for me.