Were it not for some of the cars used or a single scene involving a mobile phone there would be no way to tell that this movie was produced in the 21st Century, such is auteur Anna Biller’s commitment to the atmosphere and aesthetics of 1960s sexploitation. And never has the term auteur been more apt either, for not only did Biller direct her own screenplay, she also produced, edited and scored The Love Witch, having dressed the sets and designed the costumes herself, too. The artistry and attention to detail on display is truly astounding, with every scene so intricately crafted that it deserves to be studied rather than simply enjoyed. The Victorian Tea Room in particular is a sight to behold: oppressively pink and yet also strangely empowering.
Robinson bewitches in the leading role, simultaneously ruling the screen and submitting entirely to Biller’s singular vision. She delivers the self-consciously arch dialogue with such conviction that, even if she wasn’t murdering men left, right and centre and burying them with a jar of her own urine and menstrual blood, you’d be in little doubt of her psychosis. It’s a sensational performance, as earnest as it is wry, and tragicomic in the extreme. Elaine gets some big laughs in the beginning, often courtesy of her no-nonsense (and yet conversely quite nonsense) narrations: “most men have never even seen a used tampon”, she admonishes, while including one in her first witch’s bottle. By film’s end, however, there is no mistaking her for the monster she truly is — though one, as genre conventions dictate, of man’s creation.
Both a pastiche and an homage, Biller’s film goes much further than simply capturing the essence of 1960s sexploitation, but endeavours to resurrect it in full — right down to the tell-tale rhythm and tone. Shamelessly melodramatic and spectacularly camp, The Love Witch doesn’t even attempt to update or improve upon the genre’s more outmoded aspects, save to emphasise the inherent issues of sexuality and gender that such materials have always posed. Some of the more laughable traditions are played successfully for comic effect, but others prove even more tedious than they might have done in the genre’s heyday. It’s certainly poised in more ways than one: as endlessly glamorous and graceful as The Love Witch might be it is also laboured and glacially paced. There is a scene towards the end of the film in which Elaine and Griff happen across a meeting of the coven in the woods that, as vibrant and lively as the sequence might be in isolation, serves absolutely no purpose in the wider film at all.
There is no denying the fact that The Love Witch is an exercise in self-indulgence, a nostalgia trip, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth indulging in. Like Elaine, Biller can cast one hell of a spell, but it depends entirely on the susceptibility of the viewer whether the effects will be quite as short-lived. Luckily, unlike Elaine, Biller’s charm runs on much more than just bodily fluids.