In 2007 Anna Biller released Viva, a 70’s era comedy about women’s lib, a changing society and sex. Now, nine years later she’s back with The Love Witch, and ode the more psychedelic Eurohorror of the 60s. Screening at this year’s Fantasia Festival before it’s release later this year, it arrive with considerable buzz from previous screenings.
The film itself is gorgeous to look at, filmed in 35mm and drenched in color, it certainly looks like something filmed in the swinging sixties. A lot of that look can be attributed to Biller who wrote, directed, produced and edited the film but also scored it, decorated the sets and designed the costumes as well as handling the production design and art direction. She’s gotten the details right and the film looks authentic.
How well Biller got the genre she claims as inspiration is another matter however. Let me be clear, The Love Witch is a good movie, the issue is whether or not it’s true to it’s horror/exploitation inspiration. The film follows Elaine (Samantha Robinson) a troubled woman with a troubled past which she recounts in a voice over as the film begins. Now reborn as a witch she’s relocating to a small town with a community of witches and warlocks. She just wants to find a man to love her and she’s quite willing to use love potions and sex magic to get him. This leads to complications and the occasional dead body.
The problem is it feels more like a major studio cash in on the exploitation films than the films themselves. It’s simply to tame for exploitation, there’s some nudity from background extras but Robinson’s long hair lets her do the Lady Godiva thing and keep her breasts covered, something that would not be happening in the real thing. Similarly the horror element is very weak as well. It’s much more melodrama than anything else. And on the level of a beautiful but disturbed and desperate woman’s search for love it does work and holds attention quite well. Whether you believe she is actually using magic or it’s simply the ingredients in her potions acting as hallucinogenics the story makes sense. A better point of filmic reference for it might be George Romero’s Hungry Wives aka Season of the Witch, the story of a bored housewife who gets drawn into witchcraft and murder.
A beautifully shot film with some striking images it does run a bit long at two hours but that’s a minor quibble and could be fixed with a few edits before Oscilloscope Laboratories release it to the theaters in October. It will appeal to fans of thrillers and dramas more than straight up horror fans, but approach it with an open mind and you should enjoy it.