by Daniel Spada
Synopsis: Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a beautiful young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, then picks up men and seduces them. However, her spells work too well, and she ends up with a string of hapless 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.
The screen is a stage for Elaine, a recently widowed witch, in this melodrama giallo that is both, challenging and entertaining, in equal measure. Meticulously crafted to give a sense of formalist high camp, the treats offered by writer-director-producer-editor Anna Biller are both, aesthetic and narrative. Shot in glorious 35mm, The Love Witch puts a mirror up to the projection and deployment of identity and the agency that lies therein in a way that is, if not entirely new, audacious in its singular vision.
The joy of seeing the role reversal when it comes to emotionalism and gender is parroted by the delight in the tea time (cue the harp player) that revolves around brutally honest conversation between the main female characters. Samantha Robinson, the actress who plays Elaine, plays it straight for the majority, but not without a knowing wink. While her encounters with potential lovers might seem easy, the strength of the performances and writing elevate them beyond mere folly, reflecting against Elaine’s own narcissism in honest, illuminating ways.
So infused with color, the seasonal allusions deeply felt, and an appropriately giallo score, The Love Witch might be a turn off for some who are hesitant to give themselves over completely to the sealed off universe the film seems to exist in, as well as a running time that might test their patience. It would be dangerous to say that the film’s insular aesthetic luxuriates in itself, because that is primarily the point. It works.