Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
“The Love Witch,” a movie written, directed, and edited by Anna Biller, who is also responsible for its production design, costume design, and music. Film is a collaborative medium, true, but this picture is engineered to function as an expression of the sensibility of one person. And this sensibility expresses itself in some very unusual ways.
Biller's film is styled to look like a movie from the past. Its title character, Elaine, drives a blood-red 1960s Mustang convertible, and as she tools around the highways of the California coast, we notice she’s framed in a near-cheesy rear projection. Her voice-over is delivered in a stilted fashion. She explains that she’s looking forward to finding a new mode of life “up here where it’s quiet and clean among the redwoods.” Played by Samantha Robinson, Elaine is a coolly beautiful brunette whose black eyeliner and blue eye shadow are so pronounced as to be character defining. She’s recovering from a failed romance, she tells us, but the flashbacks don’t show a couple breaking up: they show a man drinking from a goblet and falling to the floor, poisoned. Soon Elaine is diverted from her musings and memories by a police officer, a ruggedly/cheesily handsome fellow who tells her she’s got a tail light out. He will figure later in the movie.
“The Love Witch” is, in its most immediately accessible form, a pastiche of low-budget horror movies of the 1960s and 1970s. There’s a deliberate cheesiness, or “cheesiness,” in the way the characters look, and the aforementioned stiffness extends not only to the way the actors speak but how they hold themselves. Robinson’s Elaine has a look that harks back to Soledad Miranda, the early ‘70s muse of gonzo trash artiste Jess Franco, but folks surrounding her have vibes from American-grown exploitation types; Wayne, the long-haired English professor she seduces on landing in a new town, has an unctuous “smile on your brother” free-love vibe, while Griff (Gian Keys), the cop who comes back into Elaine’s life after Wayne’s disappearance, is both ridiculously square-jawed and thick-headed. Everything about the movie seems to embrace a genre-loving, unstuck in time vibe—even the editing, which is sometimes inaccurate on purpose. In one scene, Elaine leans in to unzip one of her boots, and when the film cuts back to the master shot, she’s got both of her boots unzipped. This erroneous “matching” occurs several times in Biller’s film, emulating a common grammatical “gaffe” in the “bad” movies “The Love Witch” draws on.
As for the story: Wayne disappears because … well, Elaine finds him wanting. Being a “love witch,” she crafts potions to push things along romantically, and the combination of the brew and Elaine’s own erotic powers send Wayne off the deep end, turning him very needy almost overnight. “What a pussy,” Elaine muses in irritated disappointment. His inability to deal leads Elaine to extreme measures. Later she turns to the husband of a new friend in town who has similar difficulties in dealing with Elaine’s mojo. Her friend’s discovery of their affair also produces complications. And as for the investigation into Wayne’s disappearance, well, Griff proves more interested in winning Elaine than finding the hippie. Will third time be the charm for Elaine in this new town?
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