Anna Biller / Film

'The Love Witch' (2016) by Anna Biller

. 5 min read . Written by Lindsay Pugh
'The Love Witch' (2016) by Anna Biller

"The Love Witch" is one part Alejandro Jodorowsky, one part Elvira, with a smattering of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" (aka my twelve-year-old fantasy come to life). The whole film screams Anna Biller, who not only wrote, directed, and edited the film, but was also responsible for the production and costume design, along with the music. Talk about a modern day renaissance woman. This is one of those films that people either love or hate. To get a sense of whether or not you'll like it, peep the trailer (it's an accurate representation of the movie's overall vibe and aesthetic).

Best time to watch:
After a day of browsing penis candles at Enchantments.

When you're having relationship problems and low-key fantasizing about poisoning your partner.

When the patriarchy's got you down and you've spent the entire day silent screaming with a fake smile.

When you've exhausted Jodorowsky's canon but want to watch a beautifully strange film by a true auteur.

Sidenote: have you watched Jodorowsky read tarot? He's amazing. Also, apparently Kanye West is obsessed with Jodorowsky. Last month, I picked up a copy of his book, "Albina and the Dog-Men," at the Strand and was surprised to see a Kanye blurb on the back: "One of the most inspiring artists of our time . . . A prophet of creativity." Kanye watched "The Holy Mountain" on repeat while working on "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and the film was a great inspiration for the Yeezus tour. Who knew? (Obviously, I fell into an hours-long Internet hole researching the Ye/Jodo relationship.)

Worst time to watch:
When you're in the mood for something grounded in reality. From the costumes, to Elaine's elocution, to the Pepto-Bismol pink tea room, "The Love Witch" is completely outside of actual time and place. It has a late 60's/early 70's feel, but Trish drives a BMW 3-series and has an iPhone, and the cops are sophisticated enough to conduct a DNA test. It's a mash-up of the old and the new combined with a heavy dose of fantasy. If you're not willing to completely suspend your disbelief and give in to the rules of this weird new world, watch something else.

Why you should watch:
Because films like this don't really exist anymore. To find a filmmaker in 2016 who still shoots on 35mm and controls the entire production process is madness (in a good way). Because Elaine's costumes and makeup are killer... like Miu Miu and late 90's Betsey Johnson on acid. Also, there are so many penises! Granted, they're unattractive old man penises, but I appreciate all full-frontal male nudity.

Where to watch:
You can rent "The Love Witch" for $4.99 on Amazon or iTunes. I recommend renting on Amazon since iTunes rentals expire 24 hours after you start watching. With Amazon, you have 7 days to finish watching after you first press play, which is way more reasonable, especially if you need to watch multiple times.

Quick summary:
Elaine moves to a small town in California after her husband's death (murder) and begins to look for her next great love. Unfortunately, she's disappointed by all of her suitors, so she kills them in a variety of really fun ways (poison, stabbing, driving them to suicide). Oh, and she's a witch.

This movie is a goddamn delight and to be completely honest, I knew I was going to love it before I even watched. Simply put, it's a deconstruction of the male gaze and the damage it causes over time. I could easily see an ill-informed viewer reading it as super antiquated/anti-feminist, but it is neither; it's actually one of the most progressive, feminist films I've seen in the past 10 years and I walked away from it feeling deeply unsettled. It asks serious, important questions and doesn't offer up any satisfying answers, which I appreciate.

If you take her at face value, Elaine comes off as a fucking moron. Here's a sampling of some of the batshit things she says:

"Giving men sex is a way of unlocking their love potential."

"Men are like children. They're very easy to please as long as we give them what they want."

"You have to give a man his fantasy."

If one of my friends made a comment similar to Elaine's, I would back away slowly, convinced I had an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" style situation on my hands. You have to give a man his fantasy? Um, nope. No fucking way. So with a protagonist like this, how exactly is "The Love Witch" a feminist film? Let me break it down for you.

Even in 2017, women/girls are constantly fed a bunch of bullshit about how magical and fulfilling it is to find love. You might have it all: a successful career, money, good looks, etc. but none of that matters if you haven't found a man to love you.

We don't know much about Elaine's background, but it's clear that she lives her life with this societal construct of female happiness at the forefront. With the help of her sex magic, Elaine has no problem reeling in men, but she finds it difficult to derive satisfaction from them once she does. After she's had sex with them, things start to get annoying (Jerry), overly emotional (Wayne), boring (Richard), or confrontational (Griff). Once they fall in love with her, Elaine's interest vanishes.

While witchcraft gives her the ability to induce male love instantaneously and maintain it with minimal effort, Elaine remains dissatisfied. She's followed the formula by finding a man and making him love her, so why isn't she happy? Maybe it's because her thoughts and desires are also an important component in her quest for love. It's not like she's concocting potions to feed to herself so that she's able to effortlessly uphold her side of the relationship. Once she stops caring about the man she's with, she becomes frustrated with herself and with them. She can't make it work because they're not right for her, so she kills them. It's incredibly badass. She lures them in with sex magic, keeps them around until they've exhausted their potential, then murders them and decorates their graves with her used tampons. Yaaaaaas kween.

At the end of the film, patrons of the burlesque club attack Elaine and scream "burn the witch." Her sexuality is too powerful (it's helped her get away with murder on multiple occasions), so she must be stopped. It's important to note, however, that even though she must be stopped, the men still want to fuck her. They're ripping off her clothes and unbuckling their belts as they chant and sneer. Her sexuality is only acceptable when men are able to use it as they see fit; as soon as it empowers Elaine, it becomes unacceptable and disgusting.

When Elaine stabs Griff in the heart and begins fantasizing about their life together as husband and wife, we're seeing a visual representation of a negative feedback loop. Men don't love her for who she really is. They project their fantasies onto her and when she doesn't live up to them, they leave her. To prevent this from happening, she uses sex magic to captivate them and keep their love strong. The problem here is that she doesn't love any of the men for who they are. She projects her fantasies onto them and when they don't live up to them, she kills them. Societal constructs of love and a life spent under the male gaze have created a person who is incapable of truly loving someone. It's hard to be satisfied with a normal relationship when you've been fed romcom rubbish and idiotic fantasies of a happily ever after end game.

I applaud Anna Biller for creating a film that is not only beautiful and cohesive, but progressive, feminist, and complex. "The Love Witch" should have been nominated for best original screenplay and it's a damn shame that it wasn't.