SUFF Review: The Love Witch (USA, 2016) is an entertaining tribute to cinema of the 60’s & 70’s

Ooo-ooo, witchy woman! Sorry, got the song in my head. After my viewing of Blair Witch, it’s only fitting that my next review will be about The Love Witch. Hearing the incredibly positive buzz from many festivals around the world, especially from the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), I was so excited to see this film appear as part of this year’s Sydney Underground Film Festival. Also considering the fact that it hearkens back to the erotic melodramas of the 60’s and the occult films of the 70’s in terms of every facet of film-making, my eyes were watering. So was the film worth the buzz that it achieved?

Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a beautiful, narcissistic love-starved young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. After her ex left her (or so she says in her blissfully selective memory), she moves into a new neighbourhood. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, then picks up men and seduces them. But though her desperation, her spells work a wee bit too well, and she ends up with a string of increasingly hysterical victims. When she at last meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved drives her to the brink of insanity and murder.

Just within seconds of the film the viewer will be swept up by the incredibly gorgeous cinematography. Filmed on 35mm by cinematographer M. David Mullen, the film is soaked with colours that will leave you crying for more. And let’s not forget the use of musical scores from the 60’s and 70’s, featuring works by the iconic Ennio Morricone, it’s clear that director Anna Biller has done her homework on the subject.

There are some small and amusing modern touches that ensures that this story is set in the present, like a modern police car and the usage of mobile phones, but it just goes to show that the themes the story conveys can be told in any time period and still be relevant, timely and thought-provoking. There are also some subversiveness of the genre, such as the equal nudity of both genders in the ritual scenes as well as what fits the definition of being a witch.

Sexual politics, feminism, desires of both genders are all examined with wit and humour. Biller seems to be having a ball with her meticulous, yet somewhat indulgent direction. All the tropes of 60’s and 70’s films are here. The use of rear projection, the costumes, the make-up and especially the narration are all put to good use. But the film is not a parody or a spoof of any kind. The film is played absolutely straight and it only makes the film funnier and more genuine.

And the performances are fantastic to witness in all its stilted and deadpan glory. Samantha Robinson is a pure delight as Elaine, as she conveys her narcissistic and lovelorn sides with a perfect balance of poise and subtle enthusiasm. You can tell that she has a wonderful time playing the role and the fun rubs off on the audience. And the same goes for the supporting actors like Gian Keys as the playboy cop investigating the mysterious deaths and Laura Waddell as the trusting landlord.

Every actor in the film looks the part of the film genre and it really does resemble the past, like a glorious time machine. The male actors in particular are all hoots, especially when they suffer from an absence of Elaine in their lives to the point of becoming hysterical. They all squeeze their roles with reckless abandon and it’s quite uproarious.

As much as I am raving about the film, there is one problem that dials my praise back quite a bit. Basically, the film is too long. At 120 minutes, the film can start to drag, especially for those not accustomed to the pacing of the film’s throwback feel and the intentionally stilted line readings, meaning that the film can be a bit too self indulgent. But then again, considering the film’s story and its characters, it feels strangely appropriate.

The Love Witch is sweet and provocative, proving an entertaining tribute to the films of the 60’s and 70’s, with fantastic performances and meticulous detail from multi-tasking director Anna Biller. It feels both nostalgic and timely at the same time. Although the running time shows that you can have too much of a good thing, it again reflects the film itself, as it is a lovely spell that works too well.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Love Witch screens as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival on Sunday 18th September at 5pm. Head HERE for tickets and more details.

 

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