The Love Witch
The Love Witch is a 2016 American comedy horror/tragedy film written, edited, directed, produced, and scored by Anna Biller. The film stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine Parks, a modern-day witch who uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her with disastrous results. Shot in Los Angeles and Arcata, California, it premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. In May 2016, it was acquired for distribution at the Cannes Marché du Film by Oscilloscope Laboratories.
|The Love Witch|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Anna Biller|
|Produced by||Anna Biller|
|Written by||Anna Biller|
|Music by||Anna Biller|
|Cinematography||M. David Mullen|
|Edited by||Anna Biller|
Anna Biller Productions
|Distributed by||Oscilloscope Laboratories|
The film received a limited release in the United States on November 11, 2016. The Love Witch was shot on 35mm film, and printed from an original cut negative. The film has received positive reviews for its playful tribute to 1960s horror and Technicolor films, combined with its serious inquiry into contemporary gender roles.
The film opens with Elaine, a beautiful young witch, driving to Arcata, California, to start a new life after the death of her husband Jerry. It is heavily implied that Elaine murdered him. Once there, she rents an apartment in a Victorian home owned by Elaine's mentor Barbara and kept up by its interior decorator, Trish Manning. Trish takes Elaine to a teahouse and while they get to know one another, her husband Richard arrives to the women only restaurant. Since he is standing behind her, Trish doesn't realize that he became besotted with Elaine at first sight. Ignoring his obvious interest, Elaine performs a ritual to find a new lover and soon meets Wayne, a literature professor at the local college.
The two buy groceries and travel to Wayne's cabin, where she makes them dinner and gets him to drink a concoction containing berries, alcohol and hallucinogens. The two have sex, after which Wayne becomes emotional and clingy, which she isn't happy with. Throughout the night he calls out for her while she sleeps on the couch. She makes him breakfast that he doesn't eat due to his grief from believing that the previous night was a nightmare. When she tries to wake him later, she finds him dead and mourns before burying his body along with a witch bottle containing her urine and used tampon. She decides that the next man she will try to seduce will be Richard since he is married and can't obsess over her. While Trish is away, Elaine invites him over to her apartment, where she also serves him a concoction before seducing him with a dance. The night ends with them having sex. Afterwards, Richard does become obsessed with Elaine, causing her to abandon their affair. He then drinks himself into a stupor while ignoring Trish.
Unbeknownst to Elaine, one of Wayne's colleagues has reported him missing, leading to police officer Griff to investigate and discover Wayne's body and Elaine's witch bottle at his cabin. He traces it to Elaine who denies knowing or recognizing Wayne. Over his interrogation, he falls in love with her. Elaine shares his love and believes him to be the man of her dreams since it was foretold in her tarot card readings. She even has her coven hold a mock wedding for them at a Renaissance faire they come across while horseback riding.
Griff's superior educates him on the tenuous peace between the town and the witches then tells him to abandon the pursuit of Elaine as a suspect. When his partner Steve pushes him, he reveals that Wayne died of a heart attack and that the devil's weed found in his system grew around his cabin. For the first time it is revealed that Jerry died shortly before remarrying - from a drug overdose even though he didn't take drugs. Trish finds Richard has killed himself in the bathtub by slitting his wrists. Despondent, she invites Elaine to tea again and comments on how their lives have basically switched places since meeting. Trish tries on a ring that Griff gave Elaine during their mock wedding, only to forget to return it. After Elaine abruptly leaves, she calls to say that she will drop the ring off on her way home. When she does, she is intrigued by what she sees and begins to dress and make up like Elaine including her wig and lingerie. When she finds Elaine's altar, she continues to snoop and discovers that she was the woman Richard had the affair with. She is caught by Elaine and the two fight before Trish leaves the apartment with physical evidence.
Elaine's coven does a love ritual for her and Griff. While Griff is at the strip bar, the employees express their dislike of the new dancers who are known to be friends of the witches. When Elaine arrives, he confronts her over the deaths of Wayne and Richard. He tells her that she is tied to both of them by DNA evidence and produces the items Trish took. Elaine explains how she became to be this way throughout her life and that being a witch is no longer a crime punishable by death. When Griff explains that she has to go to jail for the crimes she did commit even if they weren't murder, the eavesdropping employees realize she is a witch and call to burn her. Although he is upset with her, Griff helps her to escape back to her apartment, getting beaten up in the process.
Once safe inside, Elaine concocts a drink for him like she did for the others, but he drops it on the floor instead of drinking it. Realizing that he was correct when telling her that no man can ever love her enough, she shrinks back in disbelief, grabs her athame and stabs him to death. With Griff dead, life has imitated art and matches the painting on the wall of them dressed like at their mock wedding and her kneeling over his body with a bloody dagger. In delirium, she smiles and imagines them at their wedding and that Griff actually proposed.
- Samantha Robinson as Elaine Parks
- Gian Keys as Griff Meadows
- Laura Waddell as Trish
- Jeffrey Vincent Parise as Wayne Peters
- Jared Sanford as Gahan
- Robert Seeley as Richard
- Jennifer Ingrum as Barbara
- Clive Ashborn as Professor King
- Lily Holleman as Shelley Curtis
- Stephen Wozniak as Jerry
- Elle Evans as Star
- Fair Micaela Griffin as Moon
The Love Witch uses the figure of the witch as a metaphor for women in general, as both an embodiment of men's fears of women, and of women's own innate powers of intuition and as mothers and sorceresses. The lead character of the film is a young woman who uses magic to make men love her. Her character is an examination of the femme fatale archetype. The film embraces the camp of 1960s horror, examining issues of love, desire, and narcissism through a feminist perspective. Anna Biller is a feminist filmmaker whose take on cinema is influenced by feminist film theory.
While writing the script for The Love Witch, Biller had been reading relationship self-help books, and one particular piece of advice that stuck out to her was that if a woman wants to keep a man around, she should love him less than he loves her. She noticed a parallel between this advice and the female characters in classic cinema who love someone to death, such as Ellen in Leave Her to Heaven, so she decided to create the character Elaine in that same vein. Biller also studied a lot about witchcraft as research for the film, including trying her own witchcraft practice.
Casting for the film involved a typical audition process, and Biller has said that the most difficult role to fill was that of Trish. Even though she didn't intend for an English actor to play that role, she couldn't find any Americans who were right for it. Biller chose Samantha Robinson for the lead role because she thought Robinson was "very poised and very self-possessed and she [had] a particular quality to her that’s very different from most people nowadays". After Robinson accepted the role, she and Biller watched a series of classic movies featuring women with "great sociopathic performance". The two collaborated closely to develop the character of Elaine so that Robinson's own personality could shape the character, and after this workshop period Biller rewrote parts of the script to adjust for their discoveries.
The film is highly stylized with elaborate set and costume design and a color palette to match the aesthetic of a 1960s Technicolor film. Although the film emulates a 1960s look, the story is set in the present day and features modern cars and mobile phones. One of Biller's stated goals is to bring "female glamor" back to films, and she believes that including stylish, detailed sets and props will fulfill women's fantasies rather than men's, and give viewers more to look at on screen, rather than focusing their attention on the female characters as sexual objects. Anna Biller designed the sets and costumes to emulate the style of classic Hollywood films, a years-long process that involved searching for the necessary vintage furniture at salvage stores or creating it herself if she couldn't find one. For example, it took Biller 6 months to make Elaine's pentagram rug from scratch. Costume design was treated the same way: Biller found vintage pieces that worked well for the film, such as Gunne Sax dresses from the '60s and '70s, but many important pieces she had to make herself. In some cases, she found vintage clothing with fabric in colors that isn't sold anymore to rebuild as needed, in other cases she made pieces from scratch. She spent over a year working full-time designing and building the Renaissance costumes for the mock wedding scene.
She also collaborated closely with her cinematographer M. David Mullen, who is an expert on period cinematography and who has been nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, to create the hard lighting style characteristic of Classic Hollywood films. Diffusion filters were used on the lens for certain close up shots, and a special kaleidoscope lens was used for drug trip sequence. For the driving scenes, rear projection photography was used to give glamour to the lead actress, and in tribute to the opening of the Hitchcock film The Birds.
The Love Witch is one of the last films to cut an original camera negative on 35mm film. It was the only new (non-repertory) feature film presented at the 2016 International Film Festival Rotterdam on 35mm film.
The Love Witch received positive reviews from critics. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 95% based on 109 reviews, with an average rating of 7.72/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "The Love Witch offers an absorbing visual homage to a bygone era, arranged subtly in service of a thought-provoking meditation on the battle of the sexes." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average rating of 82 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". The film is listed as a "Metacritic must-see".
In a review for The New York Times, A. O. Scott wrote, "Ms. Biller's movie, like its heroine, presents a fascinating, perfectly composed, brightly colored surface. What's underneath is marvelously dark, like love itself."
The Love Witch is listed at number 41 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the Top 100 Horror Movies. It also made Rolling Stone's list of the top 10 Horror Movies of 2016, The New Yorker's list of the Best Movies of 2016, and IndieWire's list of The Best Movies of 2016.
The Love Witch won in a tie for the Trailblazer Award and Best Costume Design at the Chicago Indie Critics Awards, and also won the Michael Cimino Best Film Award at the American Independent Film Awards. The Dublin Film Critics' Circle awarded M. David Mullen Best Cinematography for The Love Witch. Samantha Robinson was nominated for Best Actress for the 2017 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards for her performance as Elaine, and Emma Willis was nominated for the Technical Achievement Award for her hair and makeup on the film by the London Film Critics' Circle. In a New York Times editorial, A. O. Scott mentioned Anna Biller as worthy of receiving an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Love Witch.
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