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The Love Witch - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
cinema_holic
cinema_holic
The Love Witch
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Directing: B+
Acting: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B-
Editing: C+



Here is a movie that should be studied in college film courses. I can't think of a more appropriate home for it, except maybe for the art-house theatres in which it is currently playing. The Love Witch has "art-house theatre" written all over it. As in, adored by critics; loved by art-house audiences; vastly and understandably ignored by the public at large.

I did not particularly enjoy it. I mean, it was okay. I got a few chuckles out of it. As a person who appreciates film on a level of detail that most people do not, I will admit this much: the more I consider The Love Witch, and the more I read about it, the more I do appreciate it -- begrudgingly. After all, there must be something to its amazingly high 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and its shockingly high 81 MetaScore on MetaCritic. What is everyone else seeing that I am not? There must be something I'm missing.

And yes, sort of, there was: there is a fiercely feminist bent to the many layers of this film, although I would still argue that it lacks clarity. The work done to make surface odes to sixties and seventies exploitation films is so meticulous that it works to obscure some of that feminist content. At first glance, The Love Witch is all about its elaborately designed sets and costumes, makeup and even the film stock. I found it often distracting, although that was sometimes a welcome relief from its ultimate tediousness.

Anna Biller, who write, produced, edited, and even did production and costume design, has a clearly intimate working knowledge of cinema history and possesses an unsurpassed cinema vocabulary. The Love Witch is all visual references, all the time, and it stays on its subjects a little too much -- indeed, the editing is by far my least favorite thing about this film. It runs for a solid 120 minutes, and I likely would have enjoyed it far more cut down to at most 90. I don't mind a slower pace as a concept, but in this case it occurs, scene after scene, when nothing vital is happening. (This doesn't quite work as 60s cinema homage, either; plenty of films from that era have editing that stand up today -- just watch any single 1960s Hitchcock film.)

It's clear, however, that none of this is an accident. Not even the fact that all of the performances feel unrehearsed. Biller is painstakingly creating a certain tone here, and is shooting the scenes in a very specific way, asking her actors to behave a specific way. Again, I just found it distracting. Sequences at both a strip club and a Renaissance Fair feature dancing with what could at best be called half-hearted choreography. It's like Anna Biller gathered everyone for a first run-through and then used those shots for the final cut. Certainly she had some specific reason for doing it this way, but I couldn't tell you what it was. The retro-homage aspect also gets muddled by these characters in very sixties-style makeup and dresses using modern cars and cell phones.

So, what of the story? Samantha Robinson plays the title character, Elaine, a narcissistic witch with fantasies of bagging the perfect man by giving him everything he wants. She seems to think it's at her own expense, except she keeps using Wiccan rituals and potions that ultimately serve to seduce men to such a dangerous level that they end up dead. The ritual content, particularly flashbacks to an initiation ritual, are authentically presented, at least according to the friend I saw the movie with who has, let's say, Wiccan bona fides. Biller clearly has a good working knowledge of the real-world ideas infused into her story.

In the end, I can only think of one person I would ever go out of may way to recommend this movie to -- and he has a deep and abiding love of witches, and also happened to be the one I saw it with anyway. Anyone else? There's no need to rush to the theatre for this one, in spite of its "universal acclaim." Honestly this is an example of how average moviegoers distrust reviews when critics fawn of a movie that regular people are never going to see in large numbers. There's a reason this movie is only playing at the SIFF Film Center for one week: because it has a small audience. To be fair, the Wednesday evening screening I was at was nearly full, but a) it was a small theatre; and b) it was only screening once a day for a week. This is a case of creating the appearance of demand by limiting supply.

That said, I may be interested in watching The Love Witch again one day with someone else who has no personal connection to Wicca and knows little about the film, and getting their take. For my part, although it was intermittently moderately amusing, I literally found it difficult to stay awake. That alone does not mean it's not a good movie, though. It just means it's not for me. Okay and honestly it's probably not for most of you either.

Samantha Robinson pours herself into the role of THE LOVE WITCH.


Overall: B-
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