Monday 27 February 2017

The Love Witch (USA 2016: Dir - and just about bloody everything else - Anna Biller)

Elaine is the titular 'Love Witch' in Anna Biller's visually captivating but rather vacuous follow up to her 2007 send up of the 1970s sexual revolution, Viva.

Feeling the need to make a new start, our Wiccan heroine has just left San Francisco following the death of her latest significant other, and arrived in California, where her friend and fellow coven member Barbara has a house. No sooner is Elaine settled into her new lodgings than she's up to her old tricks, enchanting and seducing the town's menfolk from under their girlfriends' noses in a quest to find 'the one.' For despite being a witch, Elaine is just the same as any other girl - she needs a man to make her life complete. But unlike other girls she uses magic to get her guys, often with disastrous results.

Samantha Robinson as Elaine in another understated outfit.
Like her last film, The Love Witch is a labour of, er, love for Anna Biller. She produced, wrote and directed it, provided some of the music, and even designed the soft furnishings and costumes. The resulting film creates a strange, unreal and timeless small town America - it could be set anywhere between the 1960s and the present day - and the confusion is deliberate on the director's part. The movie is a visual overload of stunning sets, over the top clothes and porn film acting, with the cast shot in luminous close up on 35mm stock. This is a film that looks far better than it has the right to, largely thanks to cinematographer M. David Mullen, a talented guy with a lot of credits behind him, but nothing that suggested he had the ability to create this melding of Hitchcock's 1964 movie Marnie, Douglas Sirk movies and episodes of 1970s TV show McMillan and Wife. The opening scene, for example, is a note perfect pastiche with Elaine driving an open top car, the coast road rear projected behind her, and blood red 'movie of the week' titles appearing on screen - it's a joy to behold.

Samantha Robinson slips into something more comfortable.
Unlike Viva Biller has chosen not to star in this film, which is a blessing, as the cast here do a great job of acting badly, which takes some talent. Relative newcomer Samantha Robinson plays man stealing witch Elaine, her first starring role, and one she carries off well. She's stunningly attractive and while the intention may be to channel classic screen femme fatales (Robinson reminded Biller of Liz Taylor when casting, apparently) her smoky allure, immobile face and sideways looks strongly reminded me of Anjelica Huston's take on Morticia Addams in the Barry Sonnenfield directed Addams Family movies of the early 1990s.

The problem with The Love Witch is that beyond the look of the thing there isn't much else going on. It's a camp one joke film, although Biller insists it isn't a comedy but instead a dissection of the objectification of women and the subjugation of their needs to those of men. Well that's fine, but the subtext fails to fight its way through the layers of chiffon and lace, and the whole thing at two hours is just too long. Biller as editor, perhaps understandably, is loath to sacrifice any of her labour of love, and so some scenes, like the magickal rituals and an extended medieval whimsy, just go on and on. This lack of a sense of pace and constant parade of artifice, although beautifully done, ultimately makes The Love Witch a film to admire more than like, which is a shame because Biller is a promising director, and she certainly has a great cinematic eye. But really sometimes less is definitely more.

1 comment:

  1. I liked your review, especially the line about the subtext failing to fight its way through the chiffon and lace. Just one note: San Francisco is a city IN the state of California. One can't go from San Francisco to California. I haven't seen the film, but from the other reviews I've read, the main character goes to northern California (which is what we call the part of California north of San Francisco) when leaving San Francisco. Otherwise an excellent review. It looks like a fascinating movie, even if it might be favoring style over substance.