The Love Witch

2016

Comedy / Horror

40
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 96%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 64%
IMDb Rating 6.2 10 4169

Synopsis


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by johnnyrev 9 / 10

Witty and beautifully shot gem

I'm happy this time-culture clash exists. The Love Witch is a pitch-perfect pastiche of late 60s, early 70s exploitation movies. A witty examination of shifting attitudes toward gender politics, sexual relations and male-female desire from a vantage point 50 years on by a female director with an obvious affection/obsession for genre and a deep knowledge of the source material.

Visually, the look and feel of the era's style of film is perfectly recreated. So much so, as I watched I sometimes had to remind myself that this was made only last year in 2016. The occasional (and very intentional) glimpses of modern cars parked on streets, and characters talking on mobile phones were, probably, intended to shake the viewer out of that particular delusion. Perhaps, this was a budget constraint cleverly used by Biller to the movie's advantage, as self-reflexive moments like these seem to serve as reminders of the artifice of cinema and cultural style.

Although The Love Witch is a 'feminist' movie, it's not polemically scathing or mean-spirited. In fact, quite the opposite holds true. The Love Witch is gentle and playful; at times sympathetic and forgiving. It is often satirical and ironic and, on occasion, just plain bonkers and laugh-out-loud funny. The dialogue is suitably stilted and the cast's deadpan deliveries are in keeping with the straight/jokey dichotomy of the initial set-up. As for the design and look, Biller (who had several jobs on the crew) really does nail it. Sets, lighting, costumes, hairstyles, photography, editing, acting, story, script, soundtrack all converge and conspire to recreate several genres and sub-genres popular in their day.

However, ultimately The Love Witch is more than just a nostalgic exercise in style. It's a playful tribute to genre movies that actually has quite a lot to say for itself. A retro-style movie with more intelligence and wit than the films it lovingly emulates.

Reviewed by gavin6942 6 / 10

A Darn Fine Vision That Runs Much Too Long

A modern-day witch (Samantha Robinson) uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, in a tribute to 1960s pulp novels and Technicolor melodramas.

Making its Canadian premiere at Fantasia on July 16, "The Love Witch" swooped in to Montreal with high recommendations. Hollywood Reporter has lauded it, as have the New Yorker, Rue Morgue, Chris Alexander for ShockTilYouDrop and Jason Coffman for Film Monthly. With everyone who is anyone in the world of film criticism coming out behind it, who could dare disagree?

Writer-director Anna Biller knew exactly what she was doing when she attempted to make this a throwback to the classic sexploitation films. Shot on glorious 35mm, the colors are vivid and absolutely striking, both in the film's overall look, and in the costuming and makeup. The set design even captures what I picture the West Coast in the 1960s must have been, a world of witchcraft where Anton LaVey would have felt at home. (Some critics have grumbled about the blend of 1960s and modern vehicles and cell phones; I can appreciate their desire for purity, but that was never really the point.)

Although the art direction and cinematography are what capture the look, the acting completes that illusion. The acting is terrible, but in the most wonderful way. Presumably, the actors were forced to watch an endless loop of trailers for films from Something Weird Video until they mastered the stilted language and mannerisms. Although Samantha Robinson is obvious the star and carries every sequence, Jeffrey Vincent Parise (GENERAL HOSPITAL) as Wayne was really the high-water mark for over-the-top melodrama. All of the characters had something a little off about them to make them endearing. And I love that the lead detective in the film is named Griff. I'd like to see this as a nod to the films of Sam Fuller, though it's probably just a coincidence.

Not to sound like a carbon copy, but just as much as I agree with the film's praise, I also follow in line with some of the negative observations. Frank Scheck of Hollywood Reporter says the film "might have benefited from some trimming, with several segments depicting wiccan rituals going on a bit too long." Where I differ is that I would go much further on this point, as Biller's editing is the real downfall of the film. Presumably, after all the hard work of writing, directing and decorating, Biller (now wearing the editor hat) didn't have the heart to trim her hard work. And this is a real shame, because after the first quarter to a third of the movie, the pace feels increasingly slow and the film as a whole comes off as awfully long. A half dozen sequences could have been cut entirely, or alternately a solid 20 minutes could have been removed to pick up the pace. A film this brilliant and visually sumptuous should not be risking putting its audience to sleep, but that's precisely what ends up happening.

And that's the long and short of it. Whether this film actually has a feminist message or is a film for women as Biller claims, I couldn't say. But it is unique, and a ridiculously successful throwback to the exploitation films that genre fans (myself included) are passionate about. When the film opens to a wider audience this fall, I expect it will hit home with a wide variety of viewers and may achieve minor cult status. However, if Biller (or someone else) trims a few minutes here and there between now and October, this could go well beyond cult and be a mainstream hit.

Reviewed by Joe Stemme 5 / 10

Cult Film - but for the wrong reasons?

The biggest cult film in L.A. right now with sell-out shows and great word of mouth. Interestingly, many of the folks who like it most have misinterpreted its influences and what it is trying to do (more later). Caught it in 35mm at the American Cinematheque. It was shot on film and it has been lovingly created with a rich color palette for maximum visual impact. And, it's titular heroine is played by the extremely photogenic Samantha Robinson.

Director Anna Biller's attention to detail is such that she not only wrote, produced and directed it - but, also hand-made many of the items on screen. All of that would make for a fanatically detailed 20 minute short. Unfortunately, THE LOVE WITCH runs a full 120 minutes. The movie uses the horror genre to tell a modern feminist update on the old-fashioned 'Woman's picture'. It's so hyper-stylized that it has led to much confusion on the part of many of its most ardent admirers. Director Biller did a Q&A afterwards and she adamantly and defiantly rejected the notion that she was inspired by the 60s and 70s exploitation pictures by folks like Radley Metzger, Joe Sarno, Russ Meyer etc. (although she did admit a certain fondness for Kenneth Anger; a friend of the family she noted) - exactly the filmmakers many of the films' admirers THINK that Biller is paying tribute to! Indeed, many of the viewers of the movie think it's a hip spoof of those pictures (I call these the 'titterers' who laugh knowingly at all the nods and tweaks of those old exploitation pictures).

Now, to be fair, Biller sends mixed messages. She claims LOVE WITCH is really a post-modernist update of Film Noir and Douglas Sirk's style glossy melodramas. Yet, her soundtrack is full of 60s Ennio Morricone type giallo and psychedelic lounge music - not the more old school Herrmann,Alfred Newman 40s and 50s style of scoring. And, all the nudity and explicit sexuality is much more 60s/70s exploitation than 50s MGM technicolor weepie. It's an odd combo. All of that is fine, if the film worked. Unfortunately, it becomes tedious long before the 120 minute end mark. Exacting attention to detail, a few clever feminist touches and some nice upending of clichés only go so far. And, the acting is so affected that you can't help but think it's parody (again, Biller says that was not her intent). The biggest drawback is Samantha Robinson in the lead. She is trying for a very tricky stylized throwback tone, but, she simply isn't a good enough actress to pull it off. She just comes off as stiff and stilted (you actually have to be a very good actor to pull off being so stylized in your performance). You have to believe that, in the end, Robinson was chosen more for her physical charms than for her acting ability (something Biller indirectly admitted to). It's also odd that such an underground effort still hews to mainstream cinema's tendency to have the 'stars' manage to remain partially clothed while the nameless background artists go full frontal nude (including a very noticeable breast pastie).

I don't want to come off as overly harsh. I appreciated the effort, and the 35mm film photography gives the film a certain patina that no digital counterpart could quite achieve. I just find it both odd, and a bit amusing, that the strongest members of the Love Witch Cult are loving it for the 'wrong' reasons -- according to it's own filmmaker!

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