Without question one of the year’s most talked about genre releases, The Love Witch, a years-long labour of love from writer, director, producer and costume and set designer Anna Biller, is fully deserving of the hype it has been steadily amassing since it first began turning heads on the festival circuit last year. Unflinching and totally convincing in its commitment to its atmosphere and retro visual flair, this is a hugely entertaining piece of work that is both an effective homage to sixties and seventies horror and a smartly observed riff on long-standing genre gender politics.
In terms of honouring the era of cinema to which the film turns its affection, The Love Witch is perfect down to the last detail, and most pivotal of all its converging throwback elements is its performances. In a cast whose supporting players uniformly embody their characters with a knowing starchiness, at the centre of it all is Samantha Robinson. By turns fragile, strong, sensual and impassive, her turn as Elaine (the titular Love Witch) is absolutely intrinsic to the film’s other strengths coalescing as convincingly as they do. Impeccably designed costumes and sets and an immaculate score (also largely the product of Biller herself) combine to create a throwback vibe so authentic that a third act moment where a character produces a mobile phone feels as disorientating as one of Elaine’s potions.
As Elaine makes her way through an endless chain of hapless men, the film’s perceptive flip-reverse on genre conventions come to light in increasingly intelligent ways, but never identifiably undermines its entertainment value. Sure, it feels its length, and there’s an undeniable third-act sag as it makes its way to its fittingly delirious conclusion, but this is a starkly original film that ingeniously casts its sharply feminist mindset against a thrillingly outmoded technicolor backdrop.