Anna Biller’s second feature The Love Witch is a retro-horror-thriller about a modern-day witch (Samantha Robinson) who uses spells, magic potions, and sex appeal to seduce men and make them fall in love with her. Shot (and cut!) on 35mm film and lit to mimic the look of 1960s Technicolor, The Love Witch is another one of those recent productions that die-hard film lovers can’t help but embrace. As with this same year’s Too Late—and, to a more subtle extent, Jackie, Loving, and La La Land—the filmmaker goes out of her way to draw attention to the gorgeous, evocative qualities of celluloid. Biller—who is not only the writer, producer, and director but also the editor, production designer, set decorator, costume designer, and composer—crafts an intentionally and amusingly old-school aesthetic. Apart from modern conveniences like cellphones, The Love Witch looks like it could be a late ‘60s/early ’70 exploitation picture—employing old-school techniques like rear projection, deeply saturated colors, and deliberately hard lighting (courtesy of talented cinematographer M. David Mullen). Biller further heightens the sensation that we’re watching a low budget feature from a bygone era via the constrained composition of her shots, the labored editorial pace, and, most significantly, the stilted acting style of her cast, especially Robinson. All of this adds to the movie’s enjoyment factor.
Like the fetching protagonist, the pleasures of the The Love Witch are not limited to its surface attributes. This is not a mere homage or parody. Biller infuses her story with multiple layers of feminist subtext and surreal explorations of contemporary ideas around romance, revenge, and personal ideology. Where the picture comes up short is its disorganized narrative. Of course, this too is part of the homage, but most of the movies The Love Witch draws from and comments on run less than 90 minutes—not the full two hours we get here. The clumsy screenplay contains a number of subplots, some far more intriguing than others, which don’t come together in a satisfying way. The soft conclusion feels like a let-down after the powerful, whimsical, and edgy beginning. But, despite its flaws, it’s hard to resist the exotic and singular allure of The Love Witch.