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Love Witch, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Looks amazing, but has a bit of trouble doing more."
3 stars

Poke around this site a little bit, and you'll find my review of Anna Biller's previous feature, "Viva", as well as some comments about how, because I didn't much like it,I clearly didn't "get" it for finding it all impressively-recreated pastiche but often dull and empty. The good news about "The Love Witch" is that it's a better movie, with something interesting underneath its incredibly detailed surface; the bad news is that Biller still seems to have trouble separating the wheat from the chaff when she's worked so hard on every frame.

She introduces us to Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a young witch moving from San Francisco to a smaller town after things ended badly with her last lover, and she intends to use all that she knows about love and sex magics to make it happen. For a somewhat sleepy town, there are plenty of targets, from a libertine university professor (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) to the recently-promoted police officer who stopped her on the way in (Gian Keys) to the husband (Robert Seeley) of her new neighbor (Laura Waddell). Of course, these spells do tend to backfire.

The story itself doesn't matter for a little while, or at least the audience might be inclined to be patient, because the movie looks so good. Biller and cinematographer M. David Mullen shot on 35mm to better capture the bright, 1970s-inspired colors that she uses as her palette; though not actually a period piece, she draws a great deal of inspiration from that time, with hairstyles, wardrobe, and set decoration, much of it handmade by Biller herself, making for a tremendously lush, sensual visual experience.

It's potentially an interesting complement to Elaine's eccentricity, because it's clear from the very start that she's a fairly unreliable narrator, with her account of how things ended with Jerry not exactly matching the nasty photographs that accompany it. There's a contradictory madness to her, as she clearly has strong desires of her own but talks about how a woman must give her man his fantasy above all else. Samantha Robinson plays the part with a sort of mad confidence, often saying daft things with a self-assurance that makes her sound sophisticated but can leave others flummoxed. Elaine is messed up but sincere, a compellingly three-dimensional character in the middle of the sort of film that will usually settle for less.

Alas, she's part of a movie that doesn't seem to have anywhere for her to go. Elaine is in a loop of meeting men and leading them to ruin, but it doesn't seem to affect her or move any other story forward. Though many scenes work as amusing bits on their own, the ones where the jokes don't land can make the audience fidgety, and when a few of those come in a row or the bits don't seem to fit together (for instance, a funny bit that contrasts the internal narration of Elaine's boyfriend with her own doesn't actually reflect his attitude in later scenes), the delight at the bright colors and careful design can just drain from the viewer. By the time the movie takes an abrupt turn toward an ending - a funny one, admittedly - it becomes fatiguing. I suspect that the movies it pays homage to are a good half hour shorter and a good deal more direct in their intentions.

Despite those issues, there's a fair amount to like about "The Love Witch", and not just in terms of looking great. There's no doubt that Biller made the film she wanted - she's credited ten times and clearly hands-on for every creative decision - and it's a better movie than her prior feature, it still falls a little short in terms of telling a story rather than hanging costumes on one.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=30584&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/25/16 07:50:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  11-Nov-2016

UK
  N/A

Australia
  11-Nov-2016


Directed by
  Anna Biller

Written by
  Anna Biller

Cast
  Samantha Robinson
  Gian Keys
  Laura Waddell
  Jeffrey Vincent Parise



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