Anna Biller’s Alluring The Love Witch

Anna Biller’s The Love Witch centers on Elaine (Samantha Robinson), the eponymous enchantress who is on a quest to find true love—whatever that means. Elaine doesn’t seem quite sure herself. Following a divorce by her husband Richard (Robert Seeley), and her subsequent murder of him, Elaine feels romantically adrift. She has men  down to a formula. “Men are like children,” she muses to her new friend Trish (Laura Waddell). “They’re very easy to please as long as we give them what they want.” And indeed, Elaine sure knows how to give men what they want. A flicker of eye contact, a dance, a comforting croon. Every gesture of Elaine radiates a seductive sexual energy. But still, the victory of the hunt never feels good as the hunt itself and so Elaine finds herself moving from man to man, in search for “the one.”

Just as Elaine has her tricks of the trade, as a director so too does Biller. Thirty-minutes into The Love Witch, Elaine has roped her first victim and by that point, through her cinematic style, Biller has roped the audience. In The Love Witch there is no better make-up than the capabilities of cinema itself. Biller compliments Robinson’s already excellent acting through such maneuvers as lighting to cast the right shadows, emphasizing certain parts of Robinson’s body—neckline, eyes, mouth, the sexual details. In this regard, one can’t help but notice how closely linked Biller’s direction is to Robinson’s acting and vice-versa. Robinson’s attention to detail in her gestures emphasize Biller’s subtleties, almost as if she’s teaching the audience how to not just watch a film, but a woman. If we find ourselves paying attention to a certain part of the frame, it’s because Biller and Robinson have instructed us to do so.

For all its sexual energies, The Love Witch, however, is about more than just sex. Although of course, that too is tied into the politics of the film. Specifically, the gender politics concerning the role of men and women in romance, and more so, the use (and abuse) of a woman’s body as a weapon of power.  The film is quite direct in this manner, as exemplified by the conversation between Elaine and Trish quoted earlier, but that’s not to say The Love Witch lacks subtlety. Rather, if The Love Witch is direct, it’s because Elaine’s everyday experience as a woman—and by extension, women in real life—places an immediate focus on her body, whether or not she wishes it, and the film reflects that. The police officer who stops Elaine at the beginning of the film (and who will return later as her lover), can’t help but give her a smile, despite his stern attitude. Similarly, within the first minutes of meeting Elaine, Trish appears to be overwhelmed by Elaine’s looks; she tells Elaine, “you’re so pretty,” before quickly defending the comment as only a compliment.

The exchanges between characters are filled with underlying complexities. Biller, who also wrote the script, translates the complexities between her actors’ gestures into the film’s script. Elaine is criticized for her ways as a witch, but within that role, she also finds empowerment. Ultimately, Biller leaves room for audience interpretation. There is no one answer to feminism. What there is, is the delightfully twisted enjoyment of watching Biller’s blood-curdling, sex-crazed, romp of a film.

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