Review: ‘The Love Witch’

dfn-love_witch_300During its opening credit sequence, which features garish music and a title card that zings right out of the 1970’s television movie stratosphere, one immediately gets the sense whether he/she will gel with The Love Witch. Decked out in a fabulous outfit and immediately pulled over by a highway patrolman, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) gets off with a wink and a smile and Anna Biller’s impeccably designed effort never loses satiric steam. And as the titular Love Witch, Robinson perfectly embodies carnal treachery, sculptured cheekbones and all.

Moving to a new town (perhaps on the run or perhaps not) Elaine is a deep romantic at heart, even though every lover in her life has failed to live up to her lofty expectations. Flashbacks of her recently departed lover keeling over with a drink in his hand are the only hints we’re given about Elaine’s past.

She rents a lavish estate house from Trish (Laura Waddell) and the two become fast friends, meeting for tea at a local restaurant whose set design (also by director Biller) is a majestic, overwhelming feat in and of itself.

Firmly settled in her new environment, it seems Elaine’s circle of bad luck at romance continues, not helped by her dabbling in both witchcraft and potion-making. Her succession of lovers becomes both maddening and hilarious as she struggles to adapt her love potions for the perfect outcome. Of course, when they don’t work, drastic measures are needed.

Emerging as an homage with one foot straddling the sardonic while the other echoes an atmosphere of ‘grindhouse’ cinema that, despite their low budgets and creative restraints, did try to generate something honest, The Love Witch doesn’t so much as recreate those films as recall them. Think of Elvira’s Saturday night classics. Or the lurid, hallucinogenic sexy horror films of Jean Rollin. Or especially the array of European and American No-Wave films of the 60’s and 70’s, including those by John Waters, Kenneth Anger or Amos Poe. All of these are touchstones for Biller’s knowing film. Stilted acting, gaudy lighting and that indescribable tempo many of these films feature are all present here.

Yet, The Love Witch defies empty pastiche by not only creating a main character that develops into a complex paradox of female superiority, but manages to elicit some genuine laughs (and gasps) along the way. If that’s enough, its only fitting to bask in the glorious performance of Samantha Robinson and witness a star in the making.

The Love Witch opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, November 18 at The Texas Theatre.