At first glance, The Love Witch is the kind of film that’ll have you saying “well, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore!”
But that’s not entirely accurate.
Whether you’ve sat through Robert Rodriguez’s grindhouse-embracing Planet Terror, the inherently slow pace of late-70s horror in Ti West’s The House Of The Devil, the Trost Brothers’ vision of 80s gang dystopia in their little-seen 2011 effort The FP, or even the B movie action-comedy short Kung Fury, chances are that in one respect you’ve seen a film exactly like The Love Witch in recent years.
Going all-in on a particular style of filmmaking, as the likes of Rodriguez and West have done before, and as Anna Biller (Viva) has done with The Love Witch, means that you’re appealing to quite a niche audience. This niche audience, who have the patience for a film deliberately and purposefully dripping with soapy 60s melodrama, are likely to be tantalised by the scant story of the abused-but-narcissistic Elaine (Samantha Robinson) who has escaped her ex-husband’s clutches and thrown herself into the soothing embrace of witchcraft, embarking on a quest for satisfaction that could see many a man in her path meet an untimely end.
Elaine’s idealistic concept of love is visualised in one luxuriously refurbished location to the next. She plots and schemes in her opulent apartment, the strains of a lute form a romantic memory bubble inside the grounds of a renaissance fair, and a Victorian tearoom becomes a gender-based crime scene. Elaine will do anything for a shot at happily ever after, but what will become of someone who thinks that another person is the answer to all of their problems? Typically, nothing good.
It can’t be overstated that Samantha Robinson’s central performance as Elaine is flawless. The actress is fully immersed in the role, never once winking to the audience with an overplayed line during the entire two hour running time as her level, spellbinding eyes draw you into a dreamy time where go-go boots, presentation-style acting, Vaseline-slathered lenses and Technicolor were as commonplace to our parents as skinny jeans, choppy editing and that grey Zack Snyder filter are to us now.
And it’s clear that for Anna Biller, The Love Witch is as much of a labour of love as Elaine’s own journey is. Biller wrote, directed, edited and produced the film. She made the costumes, composed the score and decorated the sets. The powerhouse filmmaker does everything but star in the movie herself, and the way she’s recreated the feel of that 60s era in the present – down to the last stitch or lick of paint – is eye-wateringly impressive. The look of the film is a massive achievement, clearly borne out of a love and appreciation for a bygone time.
Indeed, the sheer effort that has gone into making every frame so painfully perfect and sumptuous will have you feeling like you’re eating chocolate truffles with your eyes, but if you stop and try to briefly imagine eating chocolate truffles the regular way for 120 minutes, the point at which you might start to feel like you’ve overindulged might also feel like the very point where there’s no turning back. You’ve come this far, now it’s time to finish what you started. Sure, you may well feel sick and tired, but you’ll be able to say that, hey, much like any competitive eating dare, at least it was a unique experience.
Like eating chocolate truffles solidly for two hours, watching The Love Witch is a uniquely rich and sweet experience – but if you find yourself feeling exhausted by it all, it’s one you’re not likely to repeat.