17 July 2016 | gavin6942
A Darn Fine Vision That Runs Much Too Long
A modern-day witch (Samantha Robinson) uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, in a tribute to 1960s pulp novels and Technicolor melodramas.
Making its Canadian premiere at Fantasia on July 16, "The Love Witch" swooped in to Montreal with high recommendations. Hollywood Reporter has lauded it, as have the New Yorker, Rue Morgue, Chris Alexander for ShockTilYouDrop and Jason Coffman for Film Monthly. With everyone who is anyone in the world of film criticism coming out behind it, who could dare disagree?
Writer-director Anna Biller knew exactly what she was doing when she attempted to make this a throwback to the classic sexploitation films. Shot on glorious 35mm, the colors are vivid and absolutely striking, both in the film's overall look, and in the costuming and makeup. The set design even captures what I picture the West Coast in the 1960s must have been, a world of witchcraft where Anton LaVey would have felt at home. (Some critics have grumbled about the blend of 1960s and modern vehicles and cell phones; I can appreciate their desire for purity, but that was never really the point.)
Although the art direction and cinematography are what capture the look, the acting completes that illusion. The acting is terrible, but in the most wonderful way. Presumably, the actors were forced to watch an endless loop of trailers for films from Something Weird Video until they mastered the stilted language and mannerisms. Although Samantha Robinson is obvious the star and carries every sequence, Jeffrey Vincent Parise (GENERAL HOSPITAL) as Wayne was really the high-water mark for over-the-top melodrama. All of the characters had something a little off about them to make them endearing. And I love that the lead detective in the film is named Griff. I'd like to see this as a nod to the films of Sam Fuller, though it's probably just a coincidence.
Not to sound like a carbon copy, but just as much as I agree with the film's praise, I also follow in line with some of the negative observations. Frank Scheck of Hollywood Reporter says the film "might have benefited from some trimming, with several segments depicting wiccan rituals going on a bit too long." Where I differ is that I would go much further on this point, as Biller's editing is the real downfall of the film. Presumably, after all the hard work of writing, directing and decorating, Biller (now wearing the editor hat) didn't have the heart to trim her hard work. And this is a real shame, because after the first quarter to a third of the movie, the pace feels increasingly slow and the film as a whole comes off as awfully long. A half dozen sequences could have been cut entirely, or alternately a solid 20 minutes could have been removed to pick up the pace. A film this brilliant and visually sumptuous should not be risking putting its audience to sleep, but that's precisely what ends up happening.
And that's the long and short of it. Whether this film actually has a feminist message or is a film for women as Biller claims, I couldn't say. But it is unique, and a ridiculously successful throwback to the exploitation films that genre fans (myself included) are passionate about. When the film opens to a wider audience this fall, I expect it will hit home with a wide variety of viewers and may achieve minor cult status. However, if Biller (or someone else) trims a few minutes here and there between now and October, this could go well beyond cult and be a mainstream hit.