★★★☆☆ – Although entrancing to look at, this pastiche-y and beautifully stylish 60s throwback makes some bemusing choices, and visual cues that depend too heavily on audiences prior exposure to the sort of films The Love Witch is based on.
I really, truly wanted to love The Love Witch unconditionally. I went into the cinema with a fresh excitement I hadn’t felt for a while walking into a movie – this would truly be a new experience, a rarity in todays cinematic landscape. But, it turns out the very thing that made it such a new experience for me was also the thing that made it so sentimentally familiar for so many others, no doubt including the film critics glowing analyses I had studiously read before hand.
It’s that exact 60s technicolour, B-movie feel that drew me and so many others to The Love Witch – and to look at, it honestly is glorious. Because whilst the visuals are spot on (and oh so complementary to the indescribable, Lana Del Rey-esque beauty of Samantha Robinson) it’s aspects such as tiny but significant acting choices; the way Samantha plays Elaine with a cartoonish, faux-bad quality; the inauthenticity of characters fighting, barely touching each other; even the tinny, off-timing sound of a car door closing or a punch to the face. These are the things that really pull you in wholeheartedly.
But despite how wonderfully the film achieves this, I couldn’t help but feel it should have had some sort of prior warning for viewers – “become learned with the films this pastiches”. If I had seen more movies of the era, more of those pulpy-60s gems, I would have better recognised the references that went a little over my head. I’m aware that this is my fault entirely and not that of the film itself, yet still it bothered me.
The acting is excellent, in that it so perfectly captures the style which it is inspired by. Everything is exaggerated, every line delivered a moment too soon, every flux of emotion lasting only seconds. Samantha Robinson in particular was excellent, but so too was Laura Waddell as Elaine’s fawning new friend, and Gian Keys as the gruff Griff, the cop that falls for the titular Love Witch (which to be fair, is no difficult feat).
But there are moments that don’t quite add up, where the line of cool quirk is crossed into straight up, head-scratchingly baffling. An example of this – slap bang in the middle there is a renaissance fair wedding scene, so bizarre and utterly out of place that for the duration of the entire sequence I was struggling to ascertain the reasoning of why exactly it had been included at all.
However, for its faults there is no denying how comedically entertaining or visually rapturous the film is, even if it is bemusing at times. Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is the technicolour dream of modern indie cinema, and seeing it on the big screen was a delight. It’s doubtless on a fast-track to becoming a cult favourite, if only for the otherworldly beauty and styling of the Love Witch herself.
See The Love Witch in selected cinemas and on demand now.
– Thomas Marrington