Milwaukee Film Festival 2016: The Love Witch
By Andrea Thompson
“The Love Witch” is a deceptively simple movie that taps into a whole lot of complex ideas. Of course, the fact that it's an homage to the Technicolor sexploitation films of the 1960s means more fun than usual. The film's opening is a virtual promise that we can expect a whole lot of stylish insanity, and it delivers. The catalyst is Elaine (Samantha Robinson), who comes to a small California town to start over after her husband dies. She's embraced witchcraft as a religion, and is determined to find love at all costs. But her deeply contradictory, narcissistic needs mean no amount of love will ever satisfy her. She transforms herself into a fantasy object for men while demanding they live up to her own fairy tale fantasies. Witchcraft allows her to embrace and own her sexuality, but it also limits her by reinforcing that she needs a man to complete herself. So it's not exactly a surprise that she (mostly inadvertently) destroys nearly everyone she encounters. Anna Biller, who not only wrote and directed, but also edited, produced, and designed the costumes and sets, ensuring the movie's '60s sensibilities are felt in every scene and conversation, giving “The Love Witch” a wickedly satirical edge. Biller's feminist leanings also allows her to reinterpret the genre she loves for the female gaze. Elaine and many other women are highly sexualized, but in a more creative way we rarely see, one that examines all the impossible expectations women are expected to live up to, especially in the realm of desire. The film does lose its way a bit near the end, as if Biller can't quite decide how she wants a few of her characters to come across. But it barely dampens the seductive spell “The Love Witch” casts. Before you surrender to it, just remember that you were warned.