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EIFF 2016: The Love Witch review

A lovelorn witch uses magic to find a man, but gets more than she bargained for in this devilishly fun feminist horror.

The new film from auteur Anna Biller is a glorious Technicolor homage to 60s sexploitation, following the adventures of Elaine (Samantha Robinson) a beautiful young witch looking for love. Inspired in part by the covers of pulp novels, and the director’s own personal experience, The Love Witch is a hilarious and deeply feminist work of art.

Styled and performed in the heightened and overly stylised manner of classic Hollywood – the basic plot revolves around Elaine’s desire to find a man to love, who will love her back just as much. She embodies nearly all male sexual fantasies in her quest to find love. She is stunningly beautiful, seductive, sexually available, and believes that women should give men all the pleasure they desire if they want to be loved in return. This is how the men in her life have conditioned her to believe women should act. The writing is so incisive, and perfectly skewers male attitudes to women.

When Elaine gives men what they think they want from a woman, along with a few sips of love potion, they are unable to emotionally handle the situation. They veer from suicidal obsession to weeping, clingy wrecks. When her first conquest dies from an overdose of love, Elaine’s hilarious voice over simply declares, “what a pussy.” She is horrified by the behaviour that she is responsible for with her own behaviour, which in itself is constructed from the male notion of the feminine ideal. This is more than just your average cheap sexploitation thriller.

As the body count rises, the film takes a turn toward the Hitchcockian, concerned as it is with sex, obsession and murder. But it never loses the lurid soap-opera aesthetic. The style of the film is one of it’s main pleasures. Anna Biller not only wrote and directed the film, she also produced, edited, wrote the music and designed the sets and costumes. The incredibly authentic 60s vibe is almost entirely down to her exquisite artistry and eye for detail. Huge praise must also be given to cinematographer M. David Mullen, whose incredible lighting brings Biller’s vivid colour palette to life.

And then there’s Samantha Robinson, the love witch herself. This is a phenomenal, star-making performance from a fearless performer. Her perfectly poised sexiness and cool detachment are reminiscent of old school Hollywood. She is definitely one to watch.

Hugely enjoyable from start to finish, this genre subverting slice of art-horror is well worth seeking out if you’re lucky enough to find it at a festival near you. Intelligent, funny, sexy and bursting with things to say about love, feminism and the male gaze. It may look like the love child of Russ Meyer and Tinto Brass, but this is all Anna Biller, and we are dying to see what she does next.

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