Updated: Mar 10, 2020
Review by: Jessica
Listening to: Twin Temple
Synopsis: Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a beautiful young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, then picks up men and seduces them. However, her spells work too well, and she ends up with a string of hapless victims. When she, at last, meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved drives her to the brink of insanity and murder.
The Love Witch is a 2016 American comedy horror film that pays tribute to Technicolour and horror films of the 1960s. It was written, directed, edited, produced and scored all by Anna Biller and stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine Parks, a modern-day witch who combines sex and love magick to find her ‘Prince Charming’. The film explores some modern feminist themes and the femme fatale archetype. However, the most prominent theme is the use of the figure of the witch to explore a woman’s innate feminine powers, men’s fears of that power, and the women who wield it.
The Love Witch is a visual seduction, using lighting, colour, and a vintage aesthetic to draw you in. It truly is a beautiful film. Biller combines the 1960s Technicolor look with cell phones and modern vehicles, an effect that transports its viewers into a whole other, timeless world. Everything in this film is detailed driven from the set pieces, scores, costume design, dialogue, make-up, and camera lighting. You can't help but become entranced by the scenery and the film’s aesthetic. It was because of this high attention to detail by Biller that the film took seven years to complete. As one reviewer has described, watching the film is like watching “through the lens of a playfully violent female gaze” (Indiewire).
In reading reviews about The Love Witch, the characterization of Elaine Parks has been compared to that of a serial killer, who in her pursuit for love, leaves a trail of dead men in her wake. I don’t necessarily agree with this statement about her character, however, I do see Elaine as an example of the monstrous feminine who uses her sexuality to slowly murder the masculinity that had demeaned her in the past. She is single-minded in her approach to love and her submission to her lovers is always in her own self-interest. While Elaine talks about giving men what they want, which she claims is sex, she also coddles a man, cooks for him, and seduces him in the hope to receive his undying devotion and affection in return. She also uses a hallucinogenic and deadly herb, Devils Weed, as part of her love spells to make this happen. However, when these lovers reveal themselves not to be the men that she thought they were, she then indirectly or directly murders them to move onto her next pursuit for love.
When we first meet Elaine, she talks about how becoming a witch saved her. Through witchcraft, she found her inner power, and is able to use that power to take what she wants, and teach men how she wants to be loved. As a practicing witch, we see Elaine craft love spells and use sex magick to seduce the men around her. In her seductive dance for Wayne, a man she had just met and decided would be her next lover, she calls herself “The Love Witch: Your Ultimate Fantasy.” Elaine uses the sexual image of the witch to empower herself and overcome the disrespect and self-doubt that she developed from her past abusive relationships with her ex-husband and father.
The film focuses on the sexual power of witches. Elaine’s coven leaders talk about women as natural creatures, using the power of their bodies and sexuality to deepen their connection to the earth and heighten their powers. However, when women find empowerment through their bodies and display this confidence, men label them as witches and use fear-mongering to dominate and control them. This is evident in how the bar patrons at a local burlesque club, where some of the witches meet in celebration of the female form, are hostile towards them. They are convinced that it’s the witches behind the string of murders and perpetuate the idea that witches are in league with the devil. We witness a scene where Elaine loudly declares her power as a witch in an argument with her lover, police detective Meadows, who is no longer under Elaine’s spell and links her to all the murders. She then becomes attacked by the patrons who try to rape her while yelling “burn the witch”. In this scene, we see a woman declare her independence and strength to only then incite the rage and mob mentality of both men and women in the bar who see her as a threat to the domineering aspect of the patriarchy.
When I first watched this film, I had a hard time stomaching some of the dialogue that was coming from Elaine because it was an exaggerated representation of how misogynistic men feel women should be. She believes that women should be beautiful, cook, and clean and give men what they ultimately want - adoration and sex. I remember having the same reaction her new landlady/friend Trish had when she exclaims that Elaine’s ideas about men, women, and relationships were against feminist ideals. However, after watching this film multiple times, I can see how Biller examines issues of love, desire and, narcissism through a feminist perspective and addresses the age-old battle of the sexes. This is done with the film's imagery, overt characterization of social stereotypes and complimentary and yet contrasting relationships developed between Elaine, Trish, her coven leaders and her unfortunate lovers.
What also interested me was the representation of the witch and witchcraft throughout the film. I do have a few qualms about how witches are portrayed mainly their naivety and “light and love” vibe was irksome. Yet, I love how Biller portrays how being a witch allows women to explore the inner depths of their sexuality and find empowerment from it. This was something that resonated with me since Elaine represents how becoming a sexualized and yet feminine woman makes her a monstrous threat that upsets the delicate balance of patriarchal ideas about relationships between men and women. And really, isn’t that how it should be?