Last month my BFF and I were at The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s actually where I picked up this book that I reviewed a few posts ago. The proprietor of the museum recommended a movie called The Love Witch, which I duly put in my Netflix queue*, and which we just got around to watching a couple of nights ago.
We weren’t sure what to expect. Since the film is not rated, we decided to watch it without the boys. That’s probably for the best, since there was quite a bit of nudity and sexual content. The film was a great compliment to the aforementioned book, which is an autobiographical romp through the decadence of the 1960s.
The Love Witch stars Samantha Robinson and was written and directed by Anna Biller. And as it started, it seemed like it might also be set in the 1960s. It was filmed in vibrant technicolor and featured stilted dialog and acting. Visually it was stunning, especially with the costuming and the setting choices, but the writing wasn’t so good. We were actually wondering if we had stumbled upon the female equivalent of The Room.
The story revolved around the titular character, a young woman practicing witchcraft for the purpose of finding the perfect man. As she cast her spell on a succession of lovers, she found that none of them were strong enough to withstand the intensity of her love – though they certainly enjoyed the sex. The lovers came to bad ends, and the movie revealed itself to be a sexual psychodrama horror film. Eventually a chisel-jawed police detective got drawn into the plot, and – no spoilers – you can just imagine what happened with him.
Again, the movie came across as set in the late 60s or early 70s in its style and fashion choices, and with its slow and awkward exposition and stiff acting it imitated the film of that era. My BFF even said that sometimes it felt like we were watching an old Star Trek episode. But then there were some jarring moments when it was obvious this film was set in modern times (it was released in 2016). Were these clumsy errors, or was the director toying with us? Was this a luridly compelling B-movie, or brilliant satire? I will say that The Love Witch kept us watching, and stimulated some discussion when it was done, so it must have had merit. Right?
So here’s what I got out of it. The Love Witch satirizes gender roles and the romantic ideal of heterosexual relations. Men are egotistical and hyper-rational, women manipulative and hyper-emotional. But as the saying goes, vive la différence! When done right, heterosexual relationships strike a balance between the needs of men and women and fulfill them both. This is discussed by one of the witches in the movie, in a scene at a bar where a burlesque is being performed.
Unfortunately, the witch protagonist’s quest for fulfillment is selfish, and she uses magick irresponsibly, taking her gender role too far. She is portrayed as bafflingly naive, apparently so obsessed that she is blind to the consequences of her actions. The male victims of her spells are helpless and weak, overcome by supernatural powers beyond their ability to resist. When a man with a strong enough ego finally does come along, the witch’s next logical step proves disastrous.
This could all be allegorical, in which case we must face the truth that love has power and must be wielded with care. Most of us have experienced love triangles, even though not as lurid and bloody and occult as those that involve the Love Witch. But the pain is just as real, and the responsibility is as much ours to bear. For even ordinary heartbreak is tragic, and even ordinary deception in love is a crime against the heart.
That was my impression of this strangely enticing film. If you want to form your own, you’ll have to find a copy and watch it yourself.
*I still get Netflix DVDs by snail mail. I find it to be an excellent way to watch indie films and classic films, which are often hard to find on streaming services.