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Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Love Witch (2016)

Written, Produced, and Directed by: Anna Biller

Starring: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum 

Cinematography: M. David Mullen, A.S.C.

Executive Producer: Jared Sanford

Production and Costume Design: Anna Biller

It cannot be denied that we live in interesting times to say the least. In some ways it feels that the lunatics are well and truly taking over the asylum both here in Europe (yes Brexiters, I'm looking at you), as well as over in the States (Just stand there in the corner Mr Trump and think about what you have done). There are days when I think we have taken a step back in time in regard to any number of things, racism, extremism (on all sides) and sexism. The last of which has had a particular resonance over recent months with a certain newly elected American president extolling the virtues of rampant misogamy aided by the support of a large number of individuals who seemed more than happy to accept and justify his apparent 'locker room' banter.  Well judging by the recent wonderful demonstrations across the world by women who refuse to step back in time, back into a world of acceptable stereotyping by men who are unable, or simply refuse to understand women, it seems happily that some things are not being silently accepted.

I know what you're thinking - 'Has 5D suddenly become a bastion of enlightened philosophical and social debate?' Well, er no. There's no need to worry because I remain the same self-indulgent, shallow narcissist with the attention span of a drunken gnat that I've always been. However, there are occasionally the odd moments of intellectual clarity (usually when the red wine runs out) that take place in my nerdy little middle-aged mind. 

Take a particular occurrence this week for example. There I was, holding my first hot coffee of the day while reading a morning paper (get me, multi-tasking) and seeing more of the aforementioned demonstrations by women taking place across the pond, when just at that moment I received a package through the post. The package was in fact a screener DVD from the lovely people at Fetch Publicity concerning a movie that deals with some of the very notions that I have been talking about..... male attitudes to women, feminism, narcissism, sex and gender - and all dressed up in a beautifully looking horror film that has a feel to is like no other I've seen in many a long year. 

I think it is safe to assume that The Love Witch grabbed my attention, basically because I fell a little bit in love with the concept, the story and the look of the film - and yes I admit it, more than a little smitten with the movie's lead actress. But more of that in a little while. Because before I throw your way some of my legendary (in my own mind at least) musings, let me send a little synopsis of The Love Witch in your general direction.

"Elaine, a beautiful young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. In her Gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, and then picks up men and seduces them. However her spells work too well, and she ends up with a string of hapless victims. When she finally meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved will drive her to the brink of insanity and murder. With a visual style that pays tribute to Technicolour thrillers of the ‘60s, THE LOVE WITCH explores female fantasy and the repercussions of pathological narcissism."

To say that The Love Witch looks fantastic would be a something of a catastrophic understatement. It looks all at once sublime, sumptuous, divine and ever so deliciously devious - in fact I'm finding it hard to remember when a contemporary piece of film making left me agog. It is clear to see here the cinematic inspirations of cinematographer, M. David Mullen and writer/producer/director Anna Biller; if you were to select a portion of Hitchcock, add a few teaspoons of Hammer horror & garnish with a healthy sprinkle of Roger Corman then that would give you some idea about the visual stylistics on show. Indeed the very first scene of Elaine driving along the California highway would not have been entirely out of place in any number of Hitchcock films such as Marnie, Vertigo or Psycho.

However this is no criticism, not at all. The Love Witch is no superficial parody, not one bit. The lighting, make up and photography is a genuine feast for the eyes that serves to up a feast of texture and colour that at times is simply mesmerising. Directors like Roger Corman, a well as the directors of many of the Hammer horror films, knew of the power that light and colour can have on affecting and manipulating the audience and so becoming something of a plot device all of it's own. 

Through some confident direction, Anna Biller at times cunningly accentuates and at others merely hints to the audience through clever uses of colour as to what the emotional impact should be. For instance, the women-only tea room scene bathed in hues of peach and pink is inspired in the very different psychological impact it may have between male and female viewers. Psychologists have known for years the power that colour has upon human perception and emotion - and so have good filmmakers.

However don't be fooled, because this isn't a case of parodying appearance and style and thus concealing a lack of any real substance in the film's narrative. Yes there is an immensely strong visual style on show here, but there is also a powerful narrative at the heart of this excellent horror film. Biller is quite obviously setting out to challenge the audiences notion of what it means to be empowered, both for women and men in what it takes to survive psychologically, socially and emotionally. Throughout the film I found myself constantly uncomfortable, one moment feeling completely smitten with the very lovely Samantha Robinson and her quest for true love, the next moment feeling a sense of responsibility and shame at the madness that her character has been driven to by that very same superficial adoration shown by the men in her life. 

There are people far more enlightened than me in the nuances of patriarchal and matriarchal effects on personal empowerment that can often result in an empty psychological narcissism. All I will say that if the intention was to make men uncomfortable in the thought that we all to a certain extent treat women as nothing more than a 'Witch' whenever we simply may not understand them, then I like that intention. I like it a lot. There are some men that may regard this film as 'anti-men' - no, that it certainly is is not

The performances throughout The Love Witch are uniformly excellent, especially those of Samantha Robinson as the beautiful, but psychologically scarred monster whose emotional destruction has means that creating magical spells is the only way that she feels she can find true love. Robinson should be commended in transforming a character, one that could have easily been a one-dimensional cliched femme fatale, into a sympathetic women who would rather murder the man who loves her than have him live and not love her. 

Excellent too is Laura Waddell as the Realtor Trish, a character who is initially perplexed by Elaine's view that only by unconditionally pleasing and satisfying a man can a woman achieve any sense of empowerment. The scene where a Trish decides to try on some of Elaine's clothes and finds herself feeling the very sexual empowerment that she herself was mocking is fantastic.

The Love Witch is certainly unlike any horror film that I've seen in some time. It's beautiful to look at, wonderfully acted and filled not just with some fascinating reflections on gender empowerment, but just as importantly is a thoroughly enjoyable slice of serial killer horror movie making. It is sexy, funny, terrifying and may well inspire you to think a little. And that's a good thing.

The Love Witch is released in UK cinemas, VOD and digital HD on March 10th 2017.

You can find Anna Biller's website RIGHT HERE 

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