There are good films, there are bad films and then there are kitsch films, and I think The Love Witch definitely falls in to the third category. Pretty much the love project of one woman, Anna Biller – she wrote, directed, edited and even created the costumes and props for this – the result is quite unlike anything I’ve seen in the cinema since the 1970s, every frame lovingly styled in eye-popping Technicolour, every face ladled with makeup, every hairstyle meticulously arranged.
Elaine (a remarkable performance by Samantha Robinson, looking for all the world like a young Diana Rigg) is the new witch on the block, just arrived in a small American town where she is received with little more than the occasional raised (and perfectly plucked) eyebrow. Indeed, there’s even a quaint little store in town selling potions and charms where Elaine can earn herself some pin money. We quickly learn that she is desperately in search of love and is ready to use every potion in her arsenal to secure the right partner. Her ex-husband, Jerry, has come to a somewhat sticky end and it’s clear from the outset that his premature demise is linked to the fact that he has disappointed Elaine. As she starts to attach herself to various males about town, a deadly pattern emerges… and woe betide any man who fails to live up to her romantic expectations.
I rather enjoyed this film. The characters here do not behave in the way that rational people would – indeed, the storyline is a nutty as a squirrel’s horde – but the film’s powerful appeal lies in its outright clunkiness, the way that it steadfastly refuses to allow for anything approaching normality. And though you’d be forgiven for thinking that the story is actually set in the 1970s, characters will occasionally pull out a mobile phone, or something equally 21st Century and, although at first it just looks somehow wrong, this jarring quality is what makes the film so much fun. What might at first appear to be an anti-feminist bias in the story, cunningly ends up pointing out that Elaine’s old fashioned obsession with love and romance – itself a spoof of the romantic ideals espoused by women’s magazines – is a destructive thing that can only lead to madness and mayhem. The male characters are equally ill-served by these ideologies, as they speed short-sightedly towards their own destruction.
If I’ve made it all sound rather po-faced, don’t be misled. The film is often laugh-out-loud funny (the fight sequences alone are worth the price of admission). To be honest, The Love Witch does slightly overstay its welcome: an extended sequence set at a medieval fair has several ‘hey nonny noes’ too many, for example, and a quick trim in the editing booth would have worked wonders – but that’s a minor quibble. In the end, this works so well because it’s like something from another time. But it’s much more than just a 70s spoof. It’s a genuine oddity – and an accomplished work of art.