A subversive homage to 1960s horror
The witch of love is an underrated horror satire about, to borrow from Indie Wire, “a serial killer who thinks of himself as the star of a romantic comedy.” Elaine dreams of a gallant man who will overthrow her and give her eternal devotion, however, as men obsess her, she gets rid of him one by one.
Satanic cults, love potions made from menstrual blood, majestic costume design and an overall impeccable aesthetic – The witch of love is visually stunning and clever, facing off against some of the best female-directed comedy. Since there’s a spark of interest in rebooting old Hollywood classics with feminist twists, perhaps curiosity about this hidden gem will reignite, as it definitely deserves public attention.
A subversive look at the trope of the femme fatale and 60s horror that refuses to be preachy or awake to be awake, The witch of love is a roller coaster from start to finish, a busy but undeniably fun watch.
Retro chic aesthetic of The witch of love
The witch of love follows a young enchantress named Elaine (a truly spellbinding breakthrough performance by Samantha Robinson) on her wild hunt for the perfect man in a coastal California town. american horror story says Lana Del Rey, and the result is Elaine, as dazzling as she is self-absorbed. As the film opens, she is seen driving around, dressed as a flawless ’60s doll, complete with babydoll dress, beehive, and lid-blocking blue eyeshadow color. The scene mimics the era of Silver Age glamour, referencing early Hitchcock The birds with perspective and rear projection.
The set design was meticulously controlled by the film’s director Anna Biller, with many pieces, such as paintings at Elaine’s, created by herself. His attention to detail is one of the reasons the film took seven years to make. With a retro chic aesthetic in mind, Biller painstakingly worked to create an authentic visual, down to using patterns and colors particularly associated with the 1960s, as well as giving the final image its velvety, old-fashioned look.
Consequently, The witch of love isn’t just a period piece set in the 60s. In fact, it’s set in the modern day period. The film’s past flair is a style of cinematography. Biller evokes a mix of ancient techniques and modern perspectives, and this concoction is magical. The witch of love is an extravagant and stylized pocket universe faithfully reminiscent of the era and singularly anachronistic.
Femme fatale through the female gaze
In feminist film theory, “the male gaze” is part of an essential kit. It’s a term coined by Laura Mulvey in Visual pleasure and narrative cinema regarding the fact that in the film industry, where men are exclusively the creators and consumers, women are the objects and never the subjects. Female characters are often reduced to love interests or sex objects for male characters and by extension for the viewer, meaning the viewer.
The femme fatale is an old archetype, but she’s really found her place in classic film noir. A femme fatale is dangerous because she challenges male domination and focuses on her own desires. The man tries to regain control of the dangerous woman, heal her and bring her back to “normal”. If a femme fatale rejects the “good side”, she further distances herself from humanity and thus loses her chance for sympathy and happiness. She is punished, often even killed.
The witch of love is an attempt to construct this archetype through the female gaze. Witchcraft is used as a metaphor for lipstick feminism and the notorious discourse on sexual empowerment. Biller wanted to explore the refusal of dialogue: if anyone tries to point out the shortcomings of the sex-positive feminist movement, they are quickly labeled a right-wing prudish. Through his Wiccan coven episodes, The witch of love imagine liberal feminism which, at its core, serves patriarchal exploitation. Jyn Arro writes, “The Wiccan high priestess, Barbara, simultaneously delivers a deceptive feminist manifesto that explains how female sexuality has been stifled and weaponized against them and proclaims that women must reclaim their inner goddess as a means of achieving true equality with men. .” The baseline is that to become a witch (to be a true feminist goddess), Elaine has to sleep with the cult leader.
Elaine is, in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, “the woman in love” who “having no basis to form her own identity separate from her relationships…seeks subjectivity through the eyes of another, in the occurrence, his romantic partner”. According to this existentialist theory, Elaine’s performance for men reduces her to being-for-others rather than being-in-itself; therefore, she is having an inauthentic experience. Her quest for love is doomed from the start.
The witch of love and the type of operation
In his interview with The Guardian, Biller pointed out that reviving the exploitation genre of the 60s is not his goal. While many cite Beyond the Valley of the Dolls as inspiration, she vehemently rejects such assessments: “I just don’t really have anything to do with exploitation, because I just see it as a precursor to pornography.” I am in conversation with the pornography that surrounds us.
His work is therefore not a celebration in itself, not even a real critique, just a reimagining in order to reclaim certain archetypes and tropes. Biller tells The Spectatorial, “While I quote genres, I don’t use them as a pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic stoppage and to insert a feminine point of view.”
The witch of love is an ingenious amalgamation of film noir, Hammer horror, 50s romantic comedy and even hey-nonny-nonny the musical, drawing references from a range of texts such as television shows on the witchcraft like Delighted and Charmpsychosexual folk horror like The wicker man and Suspiria to romantic comedies of female witches like practical magic and The Witches of Eastwick. This film exists at the intersection of two of the three “lowest” genres, incorporating major elements of the third: horror, melodrama and pornography – and it’s witty about it.
At the end, The witch of love does not provide viewers with an answer, but a full understanding of the complex intricacies of the agency. Viewers can see Elaine as a girl who does what she wants. On the other hand, The witch of love emphasizes the problematic performative aspect of the rhetoric of empowerment and how his fantasies prevent him from any authentic relationship.