Directed by: Anna Biller. Starring: Samantha Robinson, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise. Runtime: 2h. Released: November 11, 2016.
In The Love Witch, a modern-day witch, Elaine (Samantha Robinson), uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, with deadly consequences. Elaine is alluring enough on her own that she doesn’t need love potions, but she uses them anyway. This is an sexy, erotic horror where she fulfills men’s deepest fantasies after drugging them and doing a strip tease. Their love eventually becomes very overpowering. It’s like a cautionary tale for these fantasies.
Writer, director and producer Anna Biller’s film is also a feminist horror film and satire about gender norms, where after Elaine doses men with her love potion, she talks about how they become too clingy and emotional, as we see when one of her mates, Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), cries through the night hollering Elaine’s name.
What Biller says about love is interesting, especially during a scene featuring two contrasting voice-over narrations from the male and female perspective. Elaine talks about showering your counterpart with love and affection, and a detective named Griff (Gian Keys) narrates that the more love showered upon you, the less you care.
The aspect with the detective is the closest the film gets to a story-line. There’s not much here in terms of plot, and the film starts to drag 90 minutes in. This is a part of my 29 Days of Romance marathon because it’s horror and romance, and I love horror, but I don’t like style-over-substance films. Unfortunately, this is style-over-substance in the second half but I like a lot about this film.
There is great humour here, and Samantha Robinson is brilliant. The film’s an ode to 1970’s and 1980’s horror and the dialogue is stiff on purpose. The performance and writing are brilliant once I realized it’s bad on purpose, and the biggest hint for this is how she delivers “poor baby” when men talk about their emotions. It’s a tongue-in-cheek performance, like she’s starring in her own sitcom with her own personal laugh-track.
Robinson seems like a naturally good actress so the fact that she plays it like a 80’s slasher with terrible line delivery is impressive. It seems like a harder challenge for a good actress to just be bad and Robinson sells it as the fascinating Elaine. All the actors deliver their lines like they’re in a 70’s porno and they might as well be. It’s hard to judge the acting when they’re all so awful – and since it’s the point, it’s incredibly well-acted.
It’s all in the name of satire, but part of me wishes I could see Samantha Robinson be great in a film where she’s allowed to be great. The charm and comedy of the unnatural dialogue also starts to feel dull in the second half. I think the reason this is great is because it’s gorgeous. It’s a technicolor ode to films like Suspiria, and it’s a love letter to films of that era, even if this is never particularly frightening as horror. It’s filmed in a beautiful 35m, and the look of the film is so authentic it could have been in theatres at the same time as Friday the 13th in the May of 1980. Instead, it’s a 2016 film and more impressive for it.
It has a great visual style (with cinematography by M. David Mullen) with a great use of colours. The costumes are also stunning and I love the shot of Elaine in the pink hat. Anna Biller is the writer/director/producer, but she wears many colourful hats here as she also does the music, editing, production design, art direction, set direction and costume design. She does all of these jobs perfectly, though I think the film could be shorter and this lacks story. I find aesthetic can only take a film so far, but its vintage look and Robinson’s performance is what makes this spellbinding. If a film could be great for the strength of its aesthetic, it’s this one.