The Love Witch is a genuinely remarkable film. It’s likely to wind a lot of viewers up because it’s a subtle piece with plenty going on under the surface. Some won’t look beyond its colourful trappings, but more fool them – they’ll be missing a real treat.
The titular witch is Elaine (Samantha Robinson) who fetches up in California, keen to start a new life and put recent personal upsets behind her. She befriends her new neighbour Trish (Laura Waddell) and finds herself drawing the attention of several local men. When one of them goes missing, the police get involved – and in more ways than one.
The Love Witch is visually fantastic, with its faux-Technicolor palate complete with elegantly-designed sets and costumes. It’s a dead ringer for the lush movie chic of the late 60s/early 70s, present and correct in everything from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to Rosemary’s Baby. If you thought La La Land was a feast for the eyes, you ain’t seen nothing yet – and, most likely, all achieved for less than Emma Stone’s lipstick budget. The cast match up to the retro aesthetic too, with Robinson delivering a deliciously mannered performance which seems to have been beamed in from another decade entirely.
But it would be a real mistake to think that writer/director Anna Biller is aiming to deliver nothing more than a pretty period pastiche. The Love Witch is often very funny and has a keen sense of camp, and it delights in its gaudiness.
But the film also manages to explore gender politics in a way which could seem trite and reductive in a more poker-faced film. It’s not remotely didactic or hectoring, and certainly doesn’t feel the need to spell everything out. We’re often not privy to precisely what Elaine has done to men, or what they’ve do to her, but in a dream-logic fashion, The Love Witch provides real heft. There are arresting moments here which might pull the viewer out of their reverie entirely. The film’s look and tone are seductive, but it’s a sugar-coated pill.
And yet, without a doubt, it’s also a hoot and an unalloyed joy, boasting a loopy sense of fun and those eye-popping visuals. It’s that all-too-rare combination: a ridiculously entertaining film which comes complete with plenty of substance and yet wears its intelligence lightly. An example of exciting, skilful and – despite all those pitch-perfect retro touches – highly original film-making. Biller credits her audience with being smart and here’s hoping that she isn’t proved wrong.
We’d be lucky to see a more startling film this year.
The Love Witch is now on release