The Love Witch
The Love Witch is a 2016 American comedy horror film written, edited, directed, produced, and scored by Anna Biller, about 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 Eureka, 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 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 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 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.
The film is highly stylized with elaborate set and costume design and a color palette to match the aesthetic of Technicolor. It imitates a 1960s look, although the story is set in the present day and features modern cars and mobile phones.
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 a room in a Victorian home owned by Elaine's mentor Barbara and kept up by its interior decorator, Trish Manning. In an attempt to befriend the young woman, Trish takes Elaine to a teahouse, where she is met by her husband Richard, who is instantly besotted with Elaine after meeting her gaze. Hoping to find a new lover, Elaine performs a ritual to find a new man and soon meets Wayne, a literature professor at the local college.
The two travel to Wayne's cabin, where she gets him to drink a concoction containing hallucinogens. The two have sex, after which Wayne becomes emotional and clingy, which proves to be a turnoff for Elaine. He dies the next day and Elaine buries his body along with a witch bottle. She decides that the next man she will try to seduce will be Richard. While Trish is away, Elaine invites him over to her apartment, where she also serves him a concoction. Afterwards Richard becomes obsessed with Elaine, causing her to break up with him.
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. He traces it to Elaine but falls in love with her and initially refuses to believe that she would be capable of murder, much to the ire of his partner Steve. Elaine shares his love and believes him to be the man of her dreams, even going so far as to hold a mock wedding with her coven at a Renaissance faire.
Meanwhile Richard, morose, kills himself in his bathtub, where he is discovered by Trish. Despondent, Trish invites Elaine to tea again and tries on a ring that Griff gave Elaine during their mock wedding, only to forget to return the ring to Elaine. Trish decides to leave the ring inside Elaine's apartment but in doing so discovers a shrine to Elaine's dead lovers—and that her husband was one of them. She is discovered by Elaine and the two fight before Trish leaves the apartment. Elaine then goes to the cabaret to meet Griff, who confronts her over the deaths of Wayne and Richard. He tells her that she is tied to both of them by DNA evidence left in Wayne's witch bottle and that the items Trish gave him implicate her in Richard's suicide. Despite his earlier love, Griff is unwilling to let Elaine go unpunished. Their conversation is overheard by the cabaret patrons who are prejudiced towards witches and try to harm Elaine. Griff helps her escape, and the two return to her apartment where she enacts her vengeance on him for not loving her properly by stabbing him in the heart.
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 film was lit and shot to look like a 1960s Technicolor film. Anna Biller designed the sets and costumes to emulate the style of classic Hollywood films, and 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 such films. For the driving scenes, rear projection photography was used to give glamor to the lead actress, and in tribute to the opening of the Hitchcock film The Birds.
On her Twitter account, director Anna Biller claimed that many members of the crew were hostile to the concept of the film, and attempted to sabotage its progress.
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 100 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. 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 30 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 Independent Film Critics Circle 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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