You’ll want to dig out your lava lamp, buy a deck of Thoth and simultaneously burn your bra when you’ve been seduced by The Love Witch’s wickedly lavish cinematic sorcery. *Spoilers*
Being utterly obsessed with the 60’s and of course, witches, when I first heard of Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, a film packed to the brim with retro fashion and witch craft, I was immediately both enamored and intrigued. Luckily it didn’t disappoint.
It’s refreshing to see more horror with women at the helm, and it’s even more so when the film overtly challenges and comments on gender bias and universal sexism. The Love Witch covers all bases, proving to be more than just a pretty piece of cinema. It’s a stunning watch, yes, but it isn’t without depth – much like is protagonist.
Anna Biller has created the illusion of a genuine 60’s exploitation horror through her use of a 35mm, shying away from digital shooting, and her incredible eye for detail. She designed all the costumes and sets herself, and they are stunning. You needn’t look far on social media to see the vivid hues of the incredible Thoth-inspired apartment, complete with esoteric pentacle rug and her protagonist’s flamboyantly vintage wardrobe. While the aesthetics appear so authentic you’d be convinced the flick is set in 1969, there are traces of modernity than set it firmly in the present.
The Technicolored palette and OTT acting are more than just homage to the psychedelic decade, you feel as though you are caught in a time warp between now and then. It’s a clever con too, seducing you into a false sense of security, a spell that lasts the whole movie.You are roped, and seemingly sent you straight back to the 60’s only to be confused when a BMW people carrier and the odd out of place contemporarily dressed extra appears. Elaine, The Love Witch herself, is spinning her web of retro shaped deception and even the viewer is under her influence.
Elaine is no doubt a product of patriarchy. She is both a victim and a villain, a love-obsessed narcissist who is never satisfied when she gets what she wants. It becomes clear that the system has brainwashed her from the start – she equates happiness with romance, believing that having a man and being attractive are the most important pursuits in life.
She is completely engulfed by the idea of a happy ending being marriage and life long love, but the men she encounters never seem to live up to her fantasy of what is “masculine”; and when they do, she doesn’t fit their fantasy of “femininity” either (not to mention the fact they appear to be even more narcissistic than her).
Her magic isn’t just a glamour made for men, however, as she can’t seem to brush the chromatic crochet-knit wool from her own eyes.
Her upbringing seems to have shaped her outlook, putting importance on her image and how she appears to men. She puts on a false image, becoming a woman she thinks men will respond to and using magic to lure them like a siren. However, it is made clear to the viewer that she is not happy to keep up the pretense to maintain the relationships she dives into and her infatuation becomes irritation. Elaine is constantly left wondering why her flings don’t love her “for her”.
Elaine equally doesn’t appear to want her male victims dead, she naively concocts her spells with perhaps less knowledge than she lets on! She’s smart, sassy but dewy-eyed, indoctrinated by a world filled with too many hapless Disney princesses, searching for a love that doesn’t exist. You can’t help but see her situation as a commentary on how our society breeds narcissism, arrogance and yet an ignorance of knowledge – one that leads to death and destruction for both sexes.
There is no shying away from the feminism either, and even by today’s standards it is somewhat radical. With the backdrop of early 70’s social justice it isn’t out of place for the characters to be asserting their new found civil rights, and witchcraft, in the film, is seen as an outlet for this powerful female freedom.
Elaine states she uses sex magic to create love magic, and while she obviously makes the age old clichéd mistake, often attributed to women, of being unable to separate sex from love, she isn’t completed blindsided. She doesn’t fall in love during sex, her victims do – a gender reversal as far as societies standards are concerned. She also is particularly promiscuous, yet never branded a slut (except by another female in a jealous, grief-striken rage).
According to Barbara, Elaine’s coven friend, women’s intuitions are seen as illnesses by society and witchcraft allows them to retain their power in a distinctly feminine way. While this is an empowering little speech, it is also problematic. Elaine is doing just this with her own magic, but she isn’t ultimately taking control of men and it’s not the most productive path to take – perhaps suggesting that the film’s commentary is advocating a more equal look at the sexes rather than the early 70’s feminist view of separate but equal?
The film poses many questions, but one thing is sure – witchcraft saved Elaine’s life (okay, it also resulted in the end of many men’s) and I interpret it as a metaphor for feminism, attracting much controversy and misunderstanding. Women’s pathway to taking physical control back over their own lives has been a bit of a bumpy ride, dragging with it various opposing views, the damage and memories of the past (resulting in chips on shoulders), many misunderstandings and plenty of mistakes (not to mention collateral damage). But one things for sure, it’s a bloody great thing.