Every post-abuse woman will understand the temptation of being the love witch. It’s the obvious outcome, in-fact, to wield what was used against you – namely your own sexual energy – to inspire adoration and gain control. This process, or cycle of abuse, is rooted in conversations about every marginalised group in history. How do you make a monster? You deny someone adequate reflections of themselves. You convince them to de-humanise themselves.
It is precisely for this reason that Anna Biller’s satirical horror masterpiece is so magical: her witch is simply the pastiche of a woman scorned. What this amounts to is a hilarious film that has the clarity of vision to succinctly critique the patriarchal rhetoric that has deemed women witches for centuries. Moments when Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is spinning her psychotic webs of entrapment – via urine-based potions, sexy suspender dances or otherwise – are both laugh-out-loud ludicrous and arrows hitting the bulls eye of the issue. The fact that it all looks supernaturally beautiful is by no means a side-note.
Biller – writer, producer, director, composer, set dresser, costume designer and editor – obviously knows what she wants, when she wants it. Her hyper-feminine, 70s surreal sets that transport us into Elaine’s brain in The Love Witch are as meticulously shot as any Hitchcock picture. But the film’s obsession with fetish is not an homage to any particular cinema era or school. Rather, it indulges in feminine physicality to exaggerate Elaine’s power, with a specific look that is maybe seen as out-dated now in filmmaking. Harking us back to a time when femininity was more explicitly fetishized both puts the audience in a playful state of mind and adds that satirical edge crucial to absorbing the central issue of the film, which bursts from the coiffeur and grounds us back in the present.
This crashing reality is every girl’s nightmare. The love witch is simply a woman pushed to pathological insanity from the deprivation of love, seeking revenge. “Witchcraft is just a way of concentrating energy. It can only work with what’s already there,” explains Elaine. Yes, to delight in sexual manipulation (effectively inversed rape) of men is monstrous. But the film manages to address the fact that self-objectification, even if it appears to put you in a position of power, is a defeatist product of an ill society, where you become both the oppressor and the oppressed. It is not only men that Elaine has a problem connecting with. In her world, women should be celebrated as the beautiful creatures that they are, but when it comes to enticing men, no one is off limits, married or otherwise. It is a supernatural sisterhood made up of those wise to the knowledge that the female form is not – can not be – a human site but an object to be used for personal gain.
Sound depressing? The truth hurts, but it’s also as tactile an experience as rolling around naked on a furry pink rug. And the inside of Elaine’s brain is a place every woman and man needs to be if they’re interested in getting some fresh insight on the feminist film argument.
The Final Word: If a cake was a film, it would look like this.
Screening at The Prince Charles on the 23rd February with director skype Q&A, presented by The Final Girls – miss it at your peril.
The Love Witch comes to UK cinemas, Digital Download and VOD 10th March.