If you’re in the mood for a guilty pleasure, “The Love Witch” is it. Quirky to the max, intentionally ludicrous and overlong, Anna Biller’s homage to far-fetched drive-in horror melodramas is impressively clever all the same.
It’s basically a satirical homage to a bygone thriller genre, shot in what resembles glowing Technicolor. Watching it will take you slumming, but you must admit that Biller did remarkably well in imitating classic schlock. Every bit of pedestrian dialogue, minute of overacting and static camera shot is, if you get the deadpan irony of the thing, spot on.
Samantha Robinson delivers a deliberately uninspired performance as the gorgeous femme fatale, Elaine, a woman who loves too much. A demure, polite romance junkie, she settles in an idyllic seaside California town, scouring the male population for her heart’s desire, a rebound relationship. Or several. You see (or if you don’t see, there are plenty of flashbacks), her husband was recently murdered. If you don’t have a strong suspicion of who offed him as sociopathic Elaine brews love potions from ghastly bodily fluids, you will not be smart enough to find your way home from the theater.
Wicked to the core, she has nasty surprises for anyone who opposes her obsessive fantasy of a perfect romance. Yet Elaine is weirdly sympathetic. In flawlessly tailored 1970s wardrobe (designed by Biller), she and her co-stars camp their way across the saga’s severely dated cultural references, old-school nudity and thrift-shop production values. As films of its era did, the film puts far too much parsley on the plate in terms of gender politics, including first-wave feminist allusions to sex as a weapon, misogyny, female empowerment and patriarchy. The difference is that here it’s both sincere and ridiculous. Biller has created a film so peculiar that it’s inspired.