The Love Witch Casts a Spell

Love can be magical. It can also be horrific. For The Love Witchs 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

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Photo by Anna Biller Productions

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 Plot

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

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Photo by Anna Biller Productions

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.

RELATED LINK: For another take on relationship dynamics, read “Be Our Guests! 

The Execution

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Photo by Anna Biller Productions

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.

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Beyond Yes or No: Consent as a Sexual Process

For the peer-led discussions, my group read an article called Beyond Yes or No: Consent as a Sexual Process. In the article, Rachel Kramer Bussel added a new layer to the discussion of consent by discussing the importance of being verbal with one’s partner when it comes to pleasure.

Overall, the article was really interesting. It makes a good point that the meaning behind consent goes beyond a simple yes or no. Sex should be enjoyable for everyone involved, and for it to actually be enjoyable, there needs to be some communication between both parties.

I would say this article also pointed out how sex is still a taboo subject for a lot of people. Part of why these discussions are rare is because people are afraid to be candid about sex, even with their own partners. This point seemed to really hit me as I discussed the article with my group in the library. There was something slightly embarrassing about discussing an article that focused on sex in such a public place, but I couldn’t help but reflect on how unfortunate it is that I was feeling that way about a school assignment. Sex should be a comfortable subject for people, especially when it’s being discussed between two people actually having sex.

I also think it’s important to discuss how this taboo affects women. I think men typically feel more comfortable discussing what they want from their partners, because women have been conditioned to think that they aren’t allowed to want anything from sex. In Western society, there’s such a massive focus on reproduction when it comes to sex, and I think that stifles women’s pleasure in a really drastic manner.

Hopefully, progress can eventually made as people like Bussel open up about their feelings towards the subject.