THE LOVE WITCH
Director: Anna Biller
Runtime: 120 minutes
Every so often I’ll come upon a movie that is so left of weird it deserves to be examined under a microscope the size of the Hubble. The Love Witch, a movie that barely got its release at the very end of 2016 (not in Manhattan proper, but outside), somehow managed to wow the one or two critics that saw it, and by the time early 2017 rolled around, it seems that more and more critics were extolling on its glossy satire, its tale of feminism through the eyes of a Wicca witch, and acting so wooden it would be an insult to trees to call it that.
Of course, I got curious, and curiosity got the better of me, but I decided to wait until April when the physical DVD became available. Something about this oddity made me want to experience it, to see if in fact it lived up to expectations. So, when the DVD finally arrived at my house, I sat there in a mix of barely controlled anxiousness and a sense of doom all rolled in one. After all, this could go so far south as to fall off the globe, so I wanted to tread waters lightly. So. In went the DVD, and on came the movie, its main character’s lips a massive rose, her eyes as blank as an empty house that has never, ever had a tenant, and off we went to the races.
Let me pare this one down shortly because I don’t want to make a theses in an age when no one reads more than they can and anything north of a couple of paragraphs becomes a tl;dr thing. What is The Love Witch about? It’s about Elaine (Samantha Robinson, whom I’m not sure is a bad actress because I’ve no idea who she is), essentially subbing in for Kim Kardashian at her most expressive, trying to find that elusive young prince in a sea full of Californian frogs. Not a bad concept, but the catch is, she’s a practicing witch, and all the men who love her, die. So, as you can see, she’s in quite the predicament.
How do you retain your man when his emotions go bonkers and essentially kill him?
That’s the question the movie doesn’t bother to ask, much less answer. Anna Biller, who basically created a one-woman show here, pulls out all the stops in re-creating the mood and feel of the late 60s / early 70s genre films — the kind you would see playing super-late at night on Channel 11. And, because this is a spoof of that kind of film, it comes with its choice of bad editing — not in the choppy sense; The Love Witch is stilted but has no “old footage look”. Biller lets several scenes — such as when Elaine goes to a bar to meet up with Wiccan friends who essentially, talk to the camera for an uninterrupted 20-minute stretch about the story and purpose of Wicca. Much later, there is another extended sequence where Elaine meets the man she finally falls for (Gian Keys) — a man who was formerly investigating her for the untimely deaths of her former lovers — stumble upon a scene that seems straight out of a Medieval play. That scene also does nothing to advance the plot, and goes on interminably.
It’s hard for me to call this a bad movie because it’s clear it’s a spoof of bad B and Z-grade films. That it’s such a faithful rendering of that type of film — artless, plastic, cheap, with no scares to be found — that on that level, it should be noted. However, a spoof should at least have a slight sense of self-awareness to keep us in the know that this is not the real thing done by an inept director but a pastiche of it. It’s supposed to be a wicked send-up of feminism; I didn’t sense it, unless you call Elaine’s ultimate act one of the darker Lilith conquering Adam. [Wow — I got Biblical and all that!] It just runs 30 minutes too long, and it’s so stilted you’re often left wondering if a little editing and change of pace might not have helped. When you wind up sitting with an expression as blank as Samantha Robinson’s, that feeling sums up the entire experience of watching The Love Witch.