Witches are all the rage at the moment, from The Conjuring to Don’t Knock Twice to, well, The Witch you can’t move for the amount of broomsticks, cauldrons and potions. What most of these films don’t seem to do is to portray witches in a very good light. Real witches of history were not hagged old crones having sex with the devil but women living alternative lifestyles, or sometimes just saying no to men, who were persecuted and executed because they didn’t fit in with what a patriarchal society expected of them. The current glut of genre fair doesn’t seem to acknowledge this, so it takes something as mad as The Love Witch to take it upon itself to exact witch-kind’s revenge. All in spectacular Technicolor.
That’s not to say that the witches are portrayed as particularly decent or kind here. Samantha Robinson stars as Elaine, a sultry vixen of a witch who, after terrible goings on in San Francisco, finds herself in Eureka, California looking for love and generally destroying everyone in her path. Elaine, you see, is addicted to love. All she wants is to meet Prince Charming and give him all the passion a man could ever want. Unfortunately, for Prince Charming, Elaine loves the ideal of love, rather than love itself. She easily seduces men with the most basic of flirtatious moves, together with her extraordinary beauty. However, being a witch, she feels the need to ensure their unquestioning devotion with the extra help of her home made love potions. These, unfortunately, soon makes the men paranoid, then furious and angry, before becoming pathetic crying babies who mostly kill themselves or just drop dead. Elaine is deeply disappointed in all this: the men have failed to live up to what she expected of them and the love she wanted from them. However she soon gets over it, often whilst the man is still alive, moving onto the next Prince Charming she sets her sights on.
Elaine might actually be a terrible witch, but she’s an even worse lover. She tells one foolish man that she is the ultimate male fantasy: beautiful, sexy, subservient and can make a cracking steak dinner. But Elaine is nothing of the sort. She makes a friend in Eureaka, Trish (the great Laura Waddell), who can’t understand why Elaine only wants to do everything to make her man happy. “Don’t you want to rise up against the patriarchy?” Trish asks. Really Elaine is doing just that: by giving the man what he thinks is his heart’s desire, she exposes him as weak and childish. Its only when she comes up against chisel jawed cop Gruff (Gian Keys) who’s secret view of all women is different and much colder than the other guys (the more he knows a woman the less attractive he finds them) does Elaine’s power start to unravel.
You might think this all sounds a bit dry and heavy but you could not be more wrong, because The Love Witch is not shot like a modern horror at all. No, it is filmed as if it is a very pretty 1960s melodrama. The colour and sets burst off the screen in vivid Technicolor – genuine film stock was used! The costumes and hairstyles seem to have come straight from Biba on Carnaby Street in swinging sixties London. The whole production looks fantastic with a wonderful attention to detail of time and place, with classic Mercedes driving on projected back drops and eyelashes large enough to blow people over. This period look is perfect… right up until you see modern cars in the background. At first you think this could be a mistake or a result of budget limitations. But then Trish drives a modern BMW and later pulls out a mobile phone. Its a wonderful conceit… the movie sucks you into this sixties dreamy love letter then snaps you straight back out of it with modern touches. It both undermines its period setting and reinforces it at the same time; The Love Witch might seem like it was made in the past, with its ludicrous production values and weird dream like qualities, but it is dealing with issues which are bang up to date, and the juxtaposition of the old and new imagery reinforces this.
The acting is also top notch. I watched some god awful movie the other day which was trying to recreate a B-movie feel with exaggerated performances. However the actors were clearly not up to the task and the whole thing came across as laboured and amateur. Not so in The Love Witch. The performances are often stilted and wooden but they are deliberate, they are clearly performed by actors who really can act and it works perfectly. Think about it: acting badly enough that you give a really good performance is no easy feat. It reminded me of Johnny Depp’s terrific turn in Ed Wood – so bad its good, but on purpose… terrific.
It’s not all technicolour perfection though: the film feels way too long at just over two hours. Obviously it has a deliberately slower pace which helps recreate the mood of the sixties era, but there are some scenes which just go on for far too long. These are mostly parts involving the extended witch clans in Eureka. There are far too many long ritual scenes which could have easily been cut out and would not have made the slightest difference to the story. In fact these scenes are mostly not even shot as well as the main chunk of the film, as if they weren’t sure what to do with them so feel even more surplus to requirements.
I wouldn’t let this put you off though. The Love Witch is a unique and clearly insane film: watching all its prime-colour melodrama is like dipping your mind into a sixties acid-tinged fever dream. On top of that it gives you something to think about: how love can be a destructive curse for both men and women, and how the witch, certainly in modern cinema, isn’t helping.