Love can be magical. It can also be horrific. For The Love Witch’s protagonist, Elaine, it manages to be a little bit of both.
The Love Witch is a horror-thriller written and directed by Anna Biller. Much like Biller’s previous feature Viva, The Love Witch pays homage to films of the sixties and seventies by embracing its campiness with open arms. With the help of lighting tricks, elaborate set/costume design, and the decision to cut from its original camer
a negative, The Love Witch succeeds in replicating the aesthetics of classic technicolor films.
However, The Love Witch’s cinematography isn’t the only thing that makes the film interesting. Underneath the retro glamor lies a story chock full of social awareness. The Love Witch may utilize common tropes, but what it brings to the table is feminist commentary, which might just be what cinema needs in this current political climate.
The Love Witch follows a young witch named Elaine on a journey to start over after the death of her husband Jerry. After making her way to Arcata, California, Elaine takes shelter in a home owned by her mentor, Barbara. While staying in Barbara’s home, Elaine meets Trish, an interior designer that happens to be in charge of the house’s upkeep.
Shortly after their initial meeting, Elaine and Trish discuss their views towards relationship dynamics over tea. It becomes clear to Trish (and the film’s viewers) that Elaine’s view of her role as a woman is relatively patriarchal. Elaine is
eager to find the love of her life, and believes that the best way to accomplish this is to give a man everything he wants, especially in regards to sex. Trish attempts to tell Elaine that there are other ways to find love, but Elaine persists and heads out to find the man of her dreams.
After her meeting with Trish, Elaine meets a college professor named Wayne. Determined to charm him, Elaine convinces Wayne to take her to his cabin. Once there, Elaine uses love magic in hopes that it will make the encounter worthwhile. Unfortunately for Elaine, this ends in disaster, as Wayne falls so deeply in love with her that he dies the following morning.
This seems to be a consistent occurrence for Elaine throughout the movie, as she encounters two other men and faces similar consequences. The Love Witch shows how Elaine’s approach to love is incredibly destructive, while putting major emphasis on Elaine’s transformation from hopeless romantic to femme fatale.
Biller manages to tell a story about gender and female sexuality in a way that feels fresh and exciting. The Love Witch pokes fun at the same films it’s trying to replicate in appearance by pointing out the absurdity of how these films often represented relationships and women.
The character of Elaine is particularly fascinating because her entire essence seems to tear down the idea of what it means to be a manic pixie dream girl. The men that fall in love with Elaine admire her because she’s “unlike” any of the other women that they had met before. They see her as the personification of perfection, which is comical considering that each of them meet their demise during their encounters with her.
What makes Elaine a standout in the film is that she feels like a changed character by the time the story comes to an end. She starts the film as someone that is lacking agency, and ultimately, she’s able to find that agency, even if the results are a bit gruesome.