Retro horror movies have been popular in Hollywood for years now. The House of the Devil and Grindhouse look like they were from another decade. The Love Witch pays homage to the Italian and English horror movies of the 1960s while dealing with current topics.
Released in 2016, The Love Witch looks like a Hammer film. From sheer black dresses to Victorian era outfits, the costumes are stunning. It is obvious that director Anne Biller has a deep appreciation for the aesthetic. This is not just a matter of dressing the cast to look like they are part of another decade, they also look alluring.
It is not just the costuming that stands out as Biller’s direction also gives The Love Witch a retro look. Most obviously are the bright colors that many locations are filled with. Unlike giallos of decades past, Biller does not just focus on one color. The film uses the entire color spectrum expertly, making even the most mundane interactions pop off the screen.
The general flow of the movie feels like something out of a bygone era. Flashbacks float in and out, the characters talk in a stilted manner, and there are many extreme close-ups of eyes and mouths. At times, The Love Witch feels more like a remake than an original work.
Samantha Robinson is excellent as Elaine, the titular witch. Not only is the movie an homage, but it is also meant to be a playful jab. Robinson plays her role completely straight the entire time. The film has a fairly large cast which Robinson carries by displaying impressive range. It is unfortunate that the one time Robinson’s performance falters is during her climatic monologue.The Love Witch looks great on the surface, but it has little else going for it. The movie clumsily tackles issues of gender roles. The running theme seems to be the importance of female empowerment. Elaine and her coven worship a goddess and are led by a priestess. Men are constantly painted as being particularly strong or smart.
The Love Witch manages to get across its message well at times. The problem is that the writing contradicts itself constantly. For example, a speech about the power of a woman’s sexuality is given at a burlesque show in a lengthy scene. The point seems to be that it is simple for women to control men, but it comes off poorly since it is a man leading the talk. On top of that, he gives classes that teaches women how to use their sexual powers!Elaine is also poorly written. The fact that she uses men for her purposes then throws them away when she is done makes sense. Elaine is taking control of her own life and does not need a man, she just happens to want one. This strong bit of characterization is undermined however, when a Elaine simply shrugs off a man who gropes her breast. Even worse, she later unironically states how she tired of a man because “he cried like a woman.” These scenes may be an attempt at humor, but if so, they fall flat.
Another possible example of failing to set a tone properly is the acting. At first, it appears the movie is mimicking the over the top delivery of its inspirations. While this may be the case, the performances start to negatively impact The Love Witch over the course of its two hour runtime.. It is almost as if the acting gets worse as the movie continues.The Love Witch also suffers from an identity problem. The homage/parody hybrid hurts the movie since it is hard to take it seriously. It definitely has a message, it is just delivered ineptly. It also does not seem to know what time it wants to be in. The dress, houses, music, and burlesque show are not modern, but then there will be a scene with a cell phone or a new BMW. The town seems like some weird place that is desperately clinging to the past while enjoying modern conveniences.
The Love Witch fits nicely alongside the movies it honors. The setting and costume design are nothing short of exquisite. This is also the irony of the film. It is gorgeous to look at, but has little else to offer.