The Love Witch full movie review - Burn the Love Witch!
I recently sat down to watch the "Season of the Witch" for the first time. It's an early 1970's film by George Romero that follows a bored, neglected suburban housewife and her exploits as she becomes involved in a world of witchcraft and murder.
It was an entertaining slice of its era, and could probably be billed as an early-ish feminist horror film. With it so fresh in my memory, I was looking forward to seeing 2016's "The Love Witch" - directed by Anna Biller - as it seemed like a perfect companion piece.
You could just about copy and paste the synopsis for "Season of the Witch" and substitute it for that of "The Love Witch", but instead of being a suburban housewife, our protagonist here - Elaine, played by Samantha Robinson - is single, already a witch, and she wants a man. A perfect man. And she isn't afraid to use all the witchery in the book to get him, but things just seem to keep going wrong, and the men usually end up dead.
On its surface, "The Love Witch" is a throwback to those bright technicolor melodramas of the 60's and 70's with occult themes like those found in Romero's film. I'm not familiar with her previous work, but one look at Biller's filmography shows that she's made a habit out of paying tribute to exploitation fare of the past, and visually she nails it.
Shot on glorious 35mm, "The Love Witch" makes one hell of a first impression. The colors are vivid and absolutely striking. The costuming and makeup are dead on and invoke flashbacks to the 1970's more successfully than most films that attempt a retro look. The set design is wonderfully garish and when you realize that Biller herself did just about everything - from directing to writing, costumes to makeup, and production design to editing - it's hard not to be impressed.
I was totally on board at the beginning of the film. Elaine captures her first male victim in a long-winded but amusing sequence. There's a revealing, groovy sex scene, but the immersion is broken when you realize that the 70's bush is missing. Come on, the hair should have been growing down their legs like a gnarled thicket!
And with a noticeable lack of pubic hair, things start to fall apart. The downward spiral begins.
You begin noticing the strange on screen mix of vintage cars and brand new models. Is this the 70's, or some bizarre modern visual pastiche? Why? Things aren't quite gelling together as they should visually. There are a couple of shots that make use of the style and setting laid out so well in the first 25 minutes, but you can tell the production is quickly running out of steam.
Then... it happens. The movie stops dead in its tracks for a long, drawn out scene of dialogue that does nothing to further the plot. In fact, at this point in the film, there IS no plot. There is no drive. The audience might as well go home. Everything creaks to a halt as we watch and listen to flatly shot, mundanely written yammering that means absolutely nothing to the story as whole.
I wanted to get my scissors out and trim this thing for Biller. Sure, she's a one- woman cinematic army, wearing all the hats in the production - and I get that it takes a lot of effort to do that - but there's a reason why directors and writers aren't usually given the right to edit their work. I know, you wrote and you filmed all this stuff that in your eyes and heart is great, but you need to cut it down to make the movie watchable for us plebs. At two hours long, it's disastrous.
The script needed to be firing on all cylinders for this to work, but it never does. The proceedings are completely witless and droll. As the film drags the audience through long dialogue scene after loooooong dialogue scene, Elaine becomes insufferable. She really is a wretchedly selfish and unlikable protagonist. Her stilted, sedate line delivery and bemused look are frustrating to the point of disbelief, and the people around her wander through scenes like denizens of a poorly acted dream.
Ostensibly, the film is about the hold that women have over men with their sexuality... but you know what they say? Beauty is truly skin deep and the old adage applies to the film as well. The appeal of the visual style wears out its welcome by the halfway mark and what started out as unique, vivid, colorful and endearing becomes ugly and distasteful. It's like eating too much candy - the first few bites are great, but you end up with a stomach ache, possibly followed by projectile vomiting and violent diarrhea.
About 20 minutes from the end, when you feel like the movie MUST be wrapping up soon, you're subjected to another long, tensionless dialogue scene, and it hammers home just how much time you've wasted watching this thing. When the end mercifully comes, it's mind-numbingly (and I hate to use the word) pretentious, but would you expect anything less after all that?
Go and watch Romero's "Season of the Witch" instead. It's not great, but it's not... this.
In closing, all I can say is... burn "The Love Witch".