18 July 2016

EIFF 2016 Review - The Love Witch (2016)

Anna Biller’s fourth feature film The Love Witch cements her as a consummate talent and aesthetically gifted artist with seductively witchy control over her aesthetic. Writer, editor, production designer, and director, Anna Biller is one of the stand-out talents of Edinburgh international Film Festival 2016.

Some of the film is perhaps too reminiscent of meandering early 70’s erotic occult thrillers. The tone of the story and the performances are perhaps just a bit too dated to keep you interested for the full runtime, but it’s a small gripe when, for the most part, this is a well-executed experiment. Biller has successfully picked up the structure, pacing, and visual aesthetic of a 60’s technicolour melodrama and injected it with contemporary discourse. The result is something visually nostalgic, but ideologically unique. Its also a hell of a funny film with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek: Biller’s male characters are all traditionally handsome dominant guys who end up quivering wrecks under her spell.

The production design is absolutely on point. Many of the set decorations and costumes were made by Biller herself, an obvious detail hound and someone with consummate control over every facet of her intended output. In fact, when a character eventually takes out her mobile phone it comes as a distinct shock since Biller has lured us into another time period without ever really telling us when the story takes place. This actually works like a charm, pointing out how dated many of the gender roles on-screen are. As for cast, everyone is perfectly suited to Biller’s vibe, not least her gorgeous lead Samantha Robinson who seduces the audience as well as she does the men in her world.

Retro-ventures are nothing new, especially in the horror genre where nostalgia has reigned supreme for a few years now. But where Ti West’s House of the Devil wears the skin of 70’s occult thrillers but has the eventual shock-factor of a contemporary horror. Biller’s film dedicates every single part of itself to the desired aesthetic, for better or worse. On the plus side, this is an entertaining, flirtatious period experiment, but for non-genre fans the pace and airy romantic side could prove a tonal dedication too far. To be honest, there’s too many forced comparisons with 60’s horror floating around, this is an erotic thriller, not a horror film. Yes it’s about a witch, but Biller’s tastes for fusing feminist theory with the erotic mean the film is actually a more down-to-earth exploration of witchcraft and its roots than it ever is a scary femsploitation story.

A sumptuous beautiful piece of cinema with plenty to look at, Biller’s latest will do much to bring her exquisite talents to the limelight.

★★★★ | Scott Clark

Comedy, Horror | USA, 2016 | 15 | 2016 Edinburgh Film Festival | 2016 Horror Channel FrightFest (27th August 2016 )| Dir.Anna Biller |Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley

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