Article Thumbnail

‘The Love Witch’ Is Retro Sex Magic for Murderous Romantics

Sometimes, you just want to sit back, relax and watch an unusually beautiful, vintage-obsessed lady end the lives of some silly dudes

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at Anna Biller’s retro sex magic story The Love Witch, streaming on Arrow and Amazon Prime.

Elaine is a gorgeous young witch who’s obsessed with love. She spends her days in a gothic Victorian home in Northern California, seducing men and experimenting on them with love magic. But her spells and potions are more powerful than either she or her subjects are ready for, turning the men obsessive and making them incredibly emotional, destroying Elaine’s interest in them. Also, the men tend to keep dying soon thereafter.

The Love Witch came out in 2016 and is set in the present day, but it pays heavy homage to culture of the 1960s with its horror film visuals and its classic Hollywood fashion aesthetic. The film, and by extension its filmmaker, is obsessed with erotic feminine beauty of a certain vintage — as well as the cultivation of it. Biller spent a year on the film’s production design, searching for vintage fashion and furnishings to match her vision of how the film would be. If she couldn’t find something, she’d sew or craft it herself.

The tedious work paid off, with The Love Witch pulling viewers fully into its lush and surreal world. In a previous review I wrote after watching it on (butt) ketamine, I referred to the film as being “so saturated with technicolor pastiche it feels like a full-body orgasm while eating a rose-flavored sponge cake.” That truth still holds if you watch it sober. 

The Love Witch’s narrative is just as engrossing. Elaine, played by the stunning Samantha Robinson, is a captivating and sultry character, dedicated to being what she thinks the ideal woman is so she can capture the man of her dreams. She’s a femme fatale who romanticizes her worst impulses and believes so completely in her ideology that she’s unable to see beyond her delusions. 

The film isn’t as rich in its message as it is in its aesthetics, though. It pays a lot of lip service toward the sexuality of women, but it also carries a bioessentialism that feels more earnest than satirical, with constant assertions toward the supposed fundamental differences between men and women. These themes seem to be Biller’s own views, with her stating similar Lana Del Rey-ish views on her personal media. Knowing that Biller is in a longtime relationship with Robert Greene, author of pickup artist books like The Art of Seduction, is kinda the final piece of the puzzle in making sense of this film’s camp and often silly relationship with gender. 

All of which is to say, it’s nowhere near as feminist a work as it thinks it is, but sometimes it’s just nice to watch a unspeakably hot lady kill some dudes.