Movies like Anna Biller’s The Love Witch escape qualification. Well, I shouldn’t say “movies like,” because there are honestly very few (if any) movies like The Love Witch. Biller isn’t a retro artist, but that might be the first thing you think when you see the aesthetic wonder she’s achieving. This film goes beyond retro into something more profound; a rekindling of 60s gothic feeling without distracting self-reverence. This isn’t a Planet Terror-style imitation, but more in line with Tarantino’s underrated Death Proof experiment. The Love Witch is better than both of those films by indulging in an abandoned aesthetic to paint a vivid 60s feminist nightmare: colorful, vivid and gob-smackingly gorgeous.
The film follows the titular character, Elaine (Samantha Robinson), who utilizes ritualistic incantations to craft love potions, all with the intent of finding her dream man. Her spells prove too powerful for her victims, most of whom meet untimely ends in the throes of passion.
“People ask me why I’m a witch,” Elaine says. “It’s about using your power to get what you want.” Elaine’s search for a man has something to do with loneliness and longing, but more profoundly she has a deeply pathological need to find herself in a partner. She’s a narcissist, but her narcissism is born of a culture which expects women to be virginal and seductive at the same time. Her love potion scheme turns that double standard on its head, making her the primary seductive force in all her encounters. She’s a woman in power, born from a society in which relationships with men are typically acts of self-preservation. Elaine, not content to follow society’s path for her, takes charge of her romantic fate and suffers the consequences.
All of this thematic weight is supported by the remarkable aesthetic conviction of the movie. Every color pops with high saturation, every costume reveals further details into character and every lens flare beams in glorious kaleidoscope refraction. The movie is a joy to look at. Additionally, The Love Witch is briskly paced enough to always push the story foreword. Many films with retro on the mind tend to wallow in their visuals, but Biller does not rest on her laurels here.
To label The Love Witch as solely a B-movie exercise in feminist theory would be doing a disservice to its comedic shadings. The performances are wonderfully dry, just detached enough to emulate 60s technicolor melodrama but also independently watchable. Despite being a low-budget affair, The Love Witch has more color and entertainment than almost any film you’re likely to see in theaters. Sensual, darkly funny and vibrantly crafted, The Love Witch is a masterpiece of social commentary and aesthetic beauty.