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[Fantasia Review] ‘The Love Witch’ Casts a Sexy, Subversive Spell

Love is a journey and for widowed witch Elaine Parks, that journey frequently ends with a corpse. Armed with spells and love magic, Elaine gets whatever man she wants to fall head over heels with her. The problem is, none of these men turn out to be the white knight she so desperately craves.

The Love Witch is a spellbinding and hilarious homage to the erotic exploitation films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, with faux Technicolor hues and period décor and costumes to spare. Lurking beneath the gorgeous images is a rather clever exploration of female desires. Director Anna Biller – who also writes, edits, scores, and handles production design of the film – subverts the traditionally macho melodrama to deliver something incredibly shrewd that’s as funny as it is smart. It was a perfect film for the Fantasia Festival crowd.

Star Samantha Robinson melts every frame she appears in with her hypnotically seductive performance as Elaine. After her abusive husband dies of a drug overdose, Elaine is haunted by his memory. To escape, she moves to a small town and takes up residence in a beautiful gothic apartment. There she mixes her potions and paints prophetic works of art that express her desire to be loved.

Her string of failed loves (and dead bodies) drives Elaine into depression. That is until the detective investigating the dead suitors walks through her door. Elaine instantly falls for Detective Griff, played by the obscenely handsome Gian Keys. Theirs is a whirlwind love affair, but as the clues continue to pile up and point to Elaine, Griff has to choose between love and justice.

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It’s really not a tough decision for him, as Griff doesn’t even believe in love. His inner dialogue is hysterical and the complete opposite of Elaine’s faith in love. While she exudes true love, he’s just interested in having an heir. In one of The Love Witch’s most gloriously ridiculous scene, Elaine and Griff stumble upon a summer solstice Renaissance faire in the woods, complete with minstrels, jesters, and period costumes galore. They revelers stage a mock wedding for Elaine and Griff, complete with a bard singing about love and its many trappings. It’s such a silly scene that fits right in to the weird, stylish pastiche Biller has created.

Shot in rich 35mm, The Love Witch looks absolutely stunning at times, particularly when the lush colors are highlighting Biller’s costumes and mise-en-scène. She uses all of this to not only create a sexy ode to the campy films of the past, but to subvert and present something that feels completely new – despite all the nods.

Alongside Robinson’s sultry performance, The Love Witch boasts of solid cast that nails the campy overacting perfectly. No one goes overboard with it, even soap opera veteran Jeffrey Vincent Parise, who plays Wayne, an English professor who falls under Elaine’s spell. He delivers some of the film’s funniest moments early on, in particular one psychedelic bit involving hallucinogenic drugs and the rainbow lining of Elaine’s coat.

Sexy, subversive, and wholly original, The Love Witch is a wonderfully comedic ode to Technicolor camp. As it sends up those films, it delves into the sexual dynamic between men and women. Or, at least, men and one seriously love hungry witch.

The film screened at the ongoing Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.


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