The Love Witch (2016) is a dark romantic satire from independent filmmaker Anna Biller. The film follows Elaine, a modern witch who has relocated to Los Angeles in the pursuit of love. Through the unfortunate results (usually death) of her spells and potions, the film takes tongue-in-cheek look at feminism, gender roles in relationships, and the traditional femme fatale archetype. This February here at NOFS, we are celebrating Women in Horror and love is definitely in the air because I’m obsessed with the film we’re discussing today. One might say I’m addicted to The Love Witch.
The film is drenched in luscious, technicolor production design harkening back to the days of campy 1960s era horror from the bright, hazy cinematography to the extravagant costumes. The combination of psychedelic visuals and female empowerment make this a perfect film to explore this month. You are going to love The Love Witch, even if it kills you.
On Wednesdays, We Wear Pink
Before diving into the deeper themes of the film, we have to start with the backbone of the film: the aesthetic. From top to bottom, The Love Witch drips style. Shot on 35mm, the film was colored and lit specifically to mimic the look of the bright horror films of the 1960’s. The color palate is composed of many shades of pink, red, purple and they make the film glow. Certain shots utilized rear projection photography (combining live shots with pre-filmed backgrounds), a method used in many Alfred Hitchcock films.
The film has such a distinct look, it would be hard to confuse it with another film. However, it would be hard to place the year of the film. People drive old cars and wear old fashions but there’s modern amenities, giving the film a timeless feel. The elaborate sets are draped in warm colors, occult products, and soft curtains. The score is comprised of soft, madrigal sounds spliced with dramatic piano riffs during the darker parts. Once you plunge into this technicolor fantasy, it’s almost impossible to leave.
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“Once you plunge into this technicolor fantasy, it’s almost impossible to leave.”
The aesthetic of the film comes together cohesively mainly due to Biller’s full command over the film. In addition to directing The Love Witch, Biller also wrote the screenplay, designed the sets & costumes, edited, and composed the music. Having a hand in many departments, Biller was able to pull off her exact vision for the film. Even the performances from the actors have a distinct…strangeness to them.
Similar to a Yorgos Lanthimos (Killing of A Sacred Deer) film, the dialogue and line-delivery is deliberately stilted, supporting that this takes place in a surreal world similar to our own. Everything is played straight to accent the ridiculousness of what’s being said. You take the lines of dialogue at face value, because the joke of the satire is taking what’s being said seriously. Aside from serving the atmosphere, the performances are also just plain funny and entertaining, perfectly conjuring those “should I be laughing at this?” moments throughout the film.
Girls Rule, Boys Drool
Our lead Samantha Robinson embodies Elaine and every aspect of the film. She’s sensual, funny, has a captivating presence, and above all: is absolutely fearless. Elaine is a role that might intimidate some actresses, between focusing on the presentational acting style and the confidence to show as much skin as Elaine does. Which I must point out, the nudity is done so tastefully and necessary in the context of the film. Elaine is never presented as an object to gawk at, but a beautiful human to admire and empower women.
Robinson had a complicated task on her hands, perpetuating certain archetypes while subverting them as well, which she pulled off gracefully. Her sexuality is never condemned, even when called out or objectified by other characters. Elaine serves as the embodiment of women and the implied roles assigned to them in relationships, retaking ownership of these roles.
“…[Turning] the tables on the femme fatale archetype [Elaine is] not out for blood but she is out for love, and by any means necessary.”
Underneath all the glamour of the film, The Love Witch is a wickedly sharp commentary on the traditional roles of women and emotions of men when it comes to love and relationships. Rather than trying to directly subvert these expectations, the film does this by playing it straight. Basically, the film takes the way women are supposed to behave (implied by men) and does exactly that, so you can hear how ridiculous it sounds out loud.
The Love Witch doesn’t always play it straight, it does turn the tables on the femme fatale archetype. She’s not out for blood but she is out for love, and by any means necessary. When Elaine is seducing these men, she isn’t physically hurting them but is basically making them love her to death. Horror is meant to manipulate fear, and this film is playing on the idea that the greatest fear of a man is not violence, but their own emotions. Rather then men dying from a poisonous potion, they’re dying under the pressure of their own bottled-up emotions. The satire here is that Elaine is giving the men what they want, but they can’t seem to contain the intensity of “true love”. The men want total devotion and the only cost is honest emotion, which they apparently can’t handle. It’s truly brilliant that the film can subvert expectations, by not subverting them at all.
Addicted to Love
The Love Witch, as you could assume from it’s title, blends the themes of love and horror elements pretty well. The film doesn’t come off overtly horror, especially against it’s colorful presentation, but there is no shortage of murder and mystery. The Love Witch takes elements from giallo films and Hitchcock, over-dramatizing the mystery and suspense. Again, the idea of love consuming someone is brilliant, it might be the only time in a horror movie someone dies from a case of “the feels.” But don’t get it twisted, the film isn’t trying to warn you of the dangers of love. It’s warning you of what happens when you ignore your feelings.
The Love Witch wants you to embrace love. The deaths are symbolic of bottling up your emotions, specifically hyper-masculine men. Biller’s screenplay is airtight and her direction brilliantly blends the film into a potent sweet & sour elixir. Whether you’re in it for the horror or the comedy, this potion goes down smoothly either way.
“Whether you’re in it for the horror or the comedy, this potion “goes down smoothly either way.”
Anna Biller is a phenomenal female director that must be celebrated for women in horror, especially considering all her hands on approach, resulting in a film that’s 100% unique to her vision. With love birds singing their sweet tune right now, The Love Witch serves as the perfect Valentine’s Day horror movie (or anti-Valentines, depending on your view on relationships) to snuggle up to. And lastly, despite a near perfect 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and adored by most, the film is severely underseen. However, something this brilliant doesn’t stay in the shadows for long, as the cult following has already begun to grow. This is one of my favorite films, so consider this my Valentine to you delightful fiends. *blows kisses*
Got any special love-themed horror films planned for you and your significant other? Plan on cooking someone a nice dinner (or them into a nice dinner)? Let us know on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit and on Facebook over in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!