“I’m always interested in exploring female fantasy, and the sexy witch is a loaded archetype that is simultaneously about men’s fears and fantasies about women, and women’s feelings of empowerment and agency. So whereas we are used to seeing the sexy witch or the femme fatale from the outside, I wanted to explore her from the inside.” - Anna Biller, on why she made The Love Witch
Looking for adventure, mystery, fulfillment, and of course… love? Anna Biller’s tantalizing ode to the 60s – The Love Witch – is exactly what you’re looking for. The movie extravaganza follows a modern-day witch named Elaine Park (Samantha Robinson), who comes to a new town looking for love after a devastating heartbreak. Now reborn as a witch, she uses her powers to attract and manifest what she wants … though it sometimes comes at an unpleasant cost. Though feeling exactly like a B-movie of the era it mimics, the indie film unabashedly goes much deeper into the tropes carried by a ‘witch’ in film and her endless struggle for power in a paradoxical, patriarchal society. Biller, who expertly crafts this movie by single-handedly heading almost every department, tries to explore a new angle of her female protagonist by creating one so creatively complex – instead of the now flawless ‘girl boss’ who always saves the day. At the same time, she nurtures Elaine’s story and the audience can go from idolizing her to pitying her delusional attitude toward love and then feeling torn on the mayhem she causes since her struggle is so universal. Both beautifully shot and strikingly written, The Love Witch is old and new combined in an enchanting story you’re sure to be enamored with.
Love Thy Seductress
“I’m always interested in exploring female fantasy, and the sexy witch is a loaded archetype that is simultaneously about men’s fears and fantasies about women, and women’s feelings of empowerment and agency. So whereas we are used to seeing the sexy witch or the femme fatale from the outside, I wanted to explore her from the inside.” – Anna Biller, on why she made The Love Witch
As evident from Biller’s quote, she takes a new angle of the femme fatale by getting in the head of a character both villainized and put on a pedestal; a shiny, cursed object so out of reach. Biller humanizes the femme fatale in her structuring the film as a character study. The audience is so far into a character’s, who is normally a combined love interest and antagonist, head by being taken through her memories with flashbacks and her thoughts in voiceovers. It’s easy to identify with her struggle from her all-access pass right from the start. Though she is messy, vain, and quite selfish, it’s so hard not to love her because her struggle is so fundamentally female – trying every which way to conform to society’s expectations of what a man wants so that she can achieve love. Underneath Robinson’s delightfully campy and airy acting, she gives the character both an endearing charisma in her accidental murders and a relatable person who is just trying to be loved. Her story, at the end of the day, becomes sad because she is so powerful yet is so set on capturing the mere, mundane, mortal man. If anything, it reminds us of the power women hold and how repressive heterosexual relationship standards are the thing that can often alienate women from their true potential.
One of the greatest things about films that center on witches (not counting ones that have them as the bad guy) is that they promote solidarity amongst women and the instinctive power they (whether women or witch) possess. By not restricting this witch to just a power-hungry creature or a surprised girl-next-door, Elaine is so secure in her own femininity and embraces womanhood at all angles. It’s not curbed by respectable subtlety – like with Sarah’s quiet personality in The Craft or the three single working-girls of The Witches of Eastwick. It’s nice to see a character that’s not just demonized for her expressive feminity because, despite the bloody ending Elaine has, the audience is in constant identification with her. She did everything she could do to become a man’s fantasy but, when she found the one she wanted, her power still intimidated him. If anything, the film shows how the performance of femininity just for men is what’s constricting and that she must be doing it for herself – which it seems she comes to realize at the end of the film. Essentially, it is the men who are the problem in enforcing misogyny and they are the ones who suffer the most fatal consequences from it in the story.
Living Tarot Cards
One of the most notable parts of the film is the captivatingly colorful palette and set design. The best way to sum it is up is as the heading says… it’s like watching living tarot cards (with just as much drama). The film takes on a matte aesthetic that smoothly pleases the eye alongside the eye-catching, groovy-meets-Victorian sets. It’s incredibly impressive how well-coordinated Biller (who took on a majority of art roles) made the locations look despite all the different eras and movements she was drawing inspiration from. Like Elaine, the wonderous and well-coordinated coloring is hypnotizing and draws you into her fantasy. Today, I seldom see this kind of fantastic color being given a chance to shine unless it’s with a reserved subtlety. Even the wonder boy of symmetrical balance that is Wes Anderson fails to have the stunning, aesthetic captivation that Biller’s work consistently contains. Biller is so unabashed in her 60s influence that it’s hard to believe this came out in 2015. It gives her witch a less creepy, Wizard-Of-Oz feel but instead a woman in a glamorous self-made world of her own creation.
Anna Biller is the powerhouse behind this film – nurturing this project at every stage including writing, directing, producing, editing, music, production design, costume design, art direction, and set decoration. In her total of nine credits, you can see this film is so authentically a personal and specific expression – far from just another check to cash. She has talked about using the film as a way to express the othering women feel in society and how the vehicle of a witch is the perfect metaphor to do so. At the same time, she has been vocal about giving female characters three-dimensionality and not just making them perfect in the name of female empowerment. However fantastic the film is, Biller has talked about she still faced sexism on-set while making it despite being in charge. She went around cleaning up messes for crew members, no matter the financial cost, so that many of the male crew members wouldn’t turn against her on-set or even black-list her by word of mouth. Despite it becoming an instantaneous cult classic and receiving wide critical and audience acclaim, she remarked in 2019 about having trouble finding a producer for her next film – a piece inspired by the folktale “Bluebeard.” This just shows that no matter how the industry tries to play the part of being ‘woke’ and wanting to support female voices, they seldom actually take action to do so – especially if they’re not for projects by A-listers with big studio backing. Regardless, Anna perseveres in creating challenging and beautiful work – even if it means having to do it all herself (which she does such an excellent job at).
One of the most well-made, iconic, and subversive films in horror history will always and forever be The Love Witch. Though I’m biased to any film about witches or women killing men, I have never (and I trust you won’t either) in my years of film watching has seen a movie that is both so carefully crafted and delightfully embraces female sexuality in such a nuanced manner. It is one of the few purposeful examples in the horror genre that exemplifies this with its thorny moral compass – both embracing, commenting, and just flat out showcasing female fantasy. Where does this multi-layered film get this from? As stated previously, you can thank the nine-credited Anna Biller for that who demonstrates that you don’t need millions of dollars and international distribution to make a ground-breaking masterpiece. All you need is to provide an authentic story with the most care possible. By the end of the film, you’ll be filled with the passion Biller carries for the project.
To learn more about Anna’s work and keep up to date with her projects, click here.