The path to love is never quite as pleasant as the destination, is it? The Love Witch, a film from 2016 by writer and director Anna Biller, exemplifies this better than anything with camp taut with tension and vibrant, Technicolor horror reminiscent of 60s classics. But to simply ascribe the label "camp" to this film and move on would be undercutting the fact that this is a brilliantly elevated satirical feminist examination of the gendered politics of love and sex.
Elaine Parks (Samantha Robinson) is a beautiful modern-day witch who, on a desperate journey to find a man who truly loves her, uses the oldest tools available to her—magic and sex. In the heart of her gothic Victorian apartment, Elaine concocts spells and potions to help her seduce and conquer the men who cross her path. Of course, as love spells are wont to do, her magic conjures up disastrous results, leaving behind a string of ill-fated thralls.
Though Elaine is a narcissist through and through, the blind obsession of the men she sleeps with fails to satisfy her. With blood both metaphorical and real on her hands, she is undoubtedly the villain of this playful horror comedy. But she is a villain forged from the fires of a patriarchal catch-22. In her world—as it is all too common in the living, breathing world we live in—in order for a woman to be loved and wanted, she must present herself as the ideal sex object. However, a sex object is never the recipient of true and sincere love, but of a love narrowed down to a constructed, dehumanizing ideal of what a woman should be.
It's enough to drive a woman crazy. And... well, it does. Rather than an urgent, pushing drive to an explosive climax, the horrors of this film stem from a coasting circling of the issue. Throughout the two-hour runtime, the audience is held in the palm of the patriarchy, left marinating in its limitations until it becomes clear how easy it is to crack under the weight of it all. Elaine is a villain because it is what the societal guidelines expect—any woman who rails against being more than a two-dimensional caretaker is as good as a blood-ritual Satanist.
To quote an icon like Britney Spears in her hit song Womanizer, "You say I'm crazy, I got your crazy." It's an endless cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies.
This movie was shot on 35mm film and printed from an original cut negative. The color palette and aesthetic harkened to films of the 1960s, like the Hitchcockian hit The Birds or a slew of Elizabeth Taylor melodramas. The film implemented a style of hard-lighting, more reminiscent of the 50s, to emphasize the color and glamour of the shots. Biller, in collaboration with cinematographer M. David Mullen, opted to avoid the graininess that went hand in hand with these periods of film.
The effect of this grippingly thorough auteurism creates a story that seems to exist outside of time. The rigid expectations of gender roles was a problem of "then," but it's very much still a problem of now. And underneath the layers of beauty and lively colors which frame the film in much the same way society frames women, there is a pit of darkness that consumes us all.
Check out the risqué trailer for The Love Witch below. Then stream it for free on Amazon Prime.