'The Love Witch' is a hopeless romance with a dark side

Samantha Robinson

Samantha Robinson Courtesy of Oscilloscope

Anyone who thinks they don’t make them like they used to hasn’t seen The Love Witch. Were you to walk into Anna Biller’s film without knowing anything about it — which, as with a lot of movies, is the best route — you’d have no idea it was even made this year. This ’60s sexploitation throwback was shot on 35mm and has the fuzzy look of an old-school nasty that you’d rent from the video store.

So if you’re craving some mid-century cult film fare, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this 2016 flick. Biller wrote, edited, produced, and directed The Love Witch, a midnight-movie-in-waiting about a black widow of a woman (Samantha Robinson) whose lovers always seem to wind up dead.

Spells and potions are part of Elaine’s sexual repertoire, and witchcraft, as conceived by her, is like another word for willpower: a means of attaining that which she most desires. These dalliances never lead to happily ever after, but what of it? “In the end,” she reminds us, “we’re all just compost.”

Just because Elaine ends up murdering most of the men she sleeps with doesn’t mean she isn’t actually searching for her one true love; at the heart of her lascivious acts is genuine longing. She’s a hopeless romantic, albeit in her own way: “You might say I’m addicted to love,” Elaine admits at one point. Throughout the film she’s forced to listen to dunderheaded male suitors prove their unworthiness by bemoaning that attractive women are rarely their intellectual match. Take comfort in knowing that such proclamations ensure their doom.

The story finds her moving into a new apartment after her most recent relationship goes pear-shaped. Elaine arrives at the Gothic Victorian pad in a red convertible, announcing to us via voiceover that she’s starting a new life. The grass is always greener — and, in this case, the colors brighter and the visuals more velvety — but old habits die hard.

The Love Witch is something of an antidote to what’s occurring in our country right now. Behind one set of closed doors are pentagrams and sex rituals; behind another are men in suits speaking in hushed tones of a female uprising they can’t hope to contain or even understand. The patriarchy doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, but neither are those chipping away at it one incantation at a time.

Genre flicks that fetishize the analogue era aren’t much of a novelty in and of themselves, but Biller is so committed to her endeavor, emulating key elements of her forebears so completely, that The Love Witch is more than mere pastiche. In teasing out what most appeals to her and excising the rest, she’s crafted a film lifted from another era that also feels perfectly at home in our time — and maybe even ahead of it.

The Love Witch
Directed by Anna Biller
Opens Friday, Lagoon Cinema