Women In Horror: The Fantastic, Feminist Fable of ‘The Love Witch’

You’ve never seen a movie like The Love Witch, a film that so perfectly captures the zeitgeist it hardly seems real. A bewitching blend of magic, feminism, horror, and satire, The Love Witch is the balm for all that ails you.

Elaine (Samantha Robinson, exuding major Lana Del Rey vibes) is a beautiful but lonely woman trying to recover from the death of her ex-husband back in San Francisco by moving to a new town. And yes, she’s a witch. Elaine even has her very own Book of Spells.

The film’s plot is deceptively simple: Elaine just wants to find true love and she uses “sex magick to create love magic.” Unfortunately, Elaine’s path to true love is filled with disappointments, death, and ongoing struggles with not only those who do not understand or outright despise witches, but also something frustratingly familiar to women all over the world: The Patriarchy.

It’s the look and tone of The Love Witch that initially mesmerizes, however. Writer/director/producer/editor Anna Biller is also responsible for the production design of the shot-in-35-mm film, including the props, décor, artwork, and Elaine’s gorgeous, pitch-perfect 1960s and 1970s ensembles, many of which she sewed herself.

Every scene is like a dream come true for those of us who fetishize vividly colored A-line dresses, empire waists, lacy high necked blouses, chunky rings, oversized pendants, and oodles of blue eyeshadow paired with perfect winged eyeliner. (Not to mention pentagram rugs, velvet drapes, crocheted pillows, antique tea sets, and Elaine’s cherry red Mustang) Yet The Love Witch is set during the current day; at least one character uses a cell phone and many of the cars are contemporary models. Instead of seeming anachronistic, this blending of styles transforms the movie’s aesthetic into one that feels hyper-realistic and better yet, completely attainable. It also helps to sustain the film’s uncanny narrative tension between pastiche and straightforward pronouncements.

The Love Witch is also chockfull of witches talking about witchcraft and doing witchy things. Elaine’s friend and Wiccan high priestess Barbara discusses the history of witchcraft and women’s sexuality at length (“the whole history of witchcraft is interwoven with the fear of female sexuality”) and there are several elaborate sequences of pagan rituals that are closer in spirit to The Wicker Man than The Devil Rides Out or Race With The Devil. Biller did a lot of research in order to portray the pagan references accurately and there are actual practicing witches in the cast. It’s the kind of film that begs for repeated viewing in order to more closely examine the cultural and historical (as well as cinematic) allusions.

Elaine is far from perfect, despite her exquisitely applied makeup and hair pieces. Much like Thomasin in The Witch, witchcraft saves Elaine’s life, but it doesn’t save her from herself. As she explains at the end of the film, “All my life I’ve been tossed in the garbage, except when men wanted to use my body. So I decided to find my own power. And I found that power through witchcraft. That means that I take what I need from men and not the other way around.”

In a culture so fixated on anti-heroes, Elaine is the anti-heroine for whom we’ve all been pining. And Anna Biller is the feminist auteur that we need and deserve right now.

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