Review: The Love Witch (2016)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #668

Number of Views: One
Release Date: November 11, 2016
Sub-Genre: Psychological Drama
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $216,037 (USA)
Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: Anna Biller
Producer: Anna Biller
Screenplay: Anna Biller
Special Effects: Emma Willis
Cinematography: M. David Mullen
Score: Anna Biller
Editing: Anna Biller
Studio: Anna Biller Productions
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Stars: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum, Clive Ashborn, Stephen Wozniak, Elle Evans, Randy Evans, Lily Holleman, Jennifer Couch, Giselle DaMier, April Showers

Suggested Audio Jukebox

[1] Anna Biller “Love Is A Magickal Thing”

[2] Apaloossa “The Day (We Fell In Love)”

[3] Lana Del Rey “Maha Maha”

[4] Florence + The Machine “Wish That You Were Here”

How many frogs must a girl kiss before she meets her prince? A dozen? Two dozen? Heaven forbid… a hundred? That’s all well and good but they’re hardly the easiest amphibians to pin down are they? Does it count if we blow them one from a distance? It’s no small feat running in heels you know. Besides, you never know where the little rascals are going to leap next.

We could always catch them in a net but that just seems inhumane. After all, they should have some choice in the matter, not be imprisoned against their will to serve someone else’s purpose. According to the experts, frogs are very fragile. They can get crushed down if you assert yourself in any way. Tell you what, you line up the princes and I’ll endeavor to turn one into a frog instead. That’s a much more impressive trick, don’t you think?

Look at me rattling on like a ninny. Honestly, some times I just get so carried away and completely forget my manners. I’m really frightfully sorry. Elaine Parks is the name, I’m so thrilled to make your acquaintance. Charmed you might say. The timing couldn’t be better as I’ve only just arrived in Arcata, California after an awfully long drive and could do with a friendly face to show me around.

You see, it’s been incredibly hard since my Jerry passed. Jerry is my husband, by the way. Was my husband. I miss him dreadfully and not a second passes when I don’t ponder what might have been, had he not died so tragically and unexpectedly. One minute we were enjoying a wonderful red meat dinner that I’d prepared lovingly in his honor, and the next, no more Jerry. Just like that, the man of my dreams was gone.

I don’t mean to shoulder you with my burdens when we’ve only just exchanged names, but talking about it helps and a broken heart needs to heal, so I hear. One thing I know that Jerry would never want for me is to spend the rest of my life mourning his loss when there’s still much so love in my heart to give. He’d want me to be happy, find a nice man who can treat me right and fulfill his every desire.

How could I possibly go against his dying wishes? It doesn’t make what we shared any less special if I gallivant a little. After all, my biological clock is ticking and these looks aren’t going to be around forever. Life may have been decidedly tough of late, but happiness is only ever a brief encounter away if you know how and where to look for it. Finding your way to a man’s heart really isn’t that hard, it’s knowing how to unlock it that’s the fun part.

And why shouldn’t it be fun? After all, there are few greater causes for celebration than a couple hopelessly devoted to one another. It’s when the party draws to a close that the problems start and that’s why I place so much emphasis on jamboree. Some girls gallop on about how men don’t possess the necessary tools for monogamy. I don’t subscribe to that theory one iota. The key is in making sure that their eyes never feel the need to start wandering. It’s all ultimately about fulfillment. Should I ensure that my man’s cup runneth over, then his undying devotion will be my reward. Fidelity need then never be an issue.

I guess you could say I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart and certainly wouldn’t see fit to correct you. Like any die-hard romantic, my wish is to be swept off my feet by Prince Charming and whisked away on the back of his steed for my happily ever after. Of course, I can’t just sit around being idle in the vague hope that fate will one day bring us together. Sometimes it is required to give destiny a gentle nudge just to help those stars align. This is where it comes in handy having a basic appreciation for the five senses and knowing exactly how and when to cater to them.

Let’s just assume that sight is the go-to sense when it comes to falling in love as men are visual creatures and tend to require a little optical encouragement to usher them forth from their lily-pads. Once their undivided attention has been secured, then it is time to appeal to their ears. It’s not just about telling them what you think they wish to hear; it’s also about listening intently and making them feel like they have some control over what happens next. A few puffs of fragrance can also go a long way towards sealing the deal. Nothing too overpowering, you don’t want them getting giddy, just enough to tantalize should do.

It’s widely believed that the quickest way to a man’s heart is by way of his stomach and that’s where culinary expertise comes in handy. Get those taste buds yearning and primal instinct cannot help but kick in. Feed him well but don’t forget to leave space for dessert as, providing you’ve followed these four steps, then it should now be time to get hands on. Touch is by far my favorite of the five senses as it is here that the dance becomes intimate. Before you know it, you’ve got one unlocked heart on your hands to do with as you so please.

Look at me giving away all my trade secrets, when decent marriage material is just so hard to find nowadays. I cannot stress enough the importance of astrology in the selection process and speak from first-hand experience. There was this one guy, Wayne I believe his name was. Anyway, what attracted me to Wayne in the first place was that he was tender-hearted, knowledgeable, and comforting; three qualities I happen to find very attractive in a potential suitor. Indeed, it appeared as though my wait for a fairy tale prince might be over. How wrong I was. 

I should have paid more attention to the prominent vein in his forehead. Little did I know that I’d be seeing it again all too soon, only next time, in a completely different context. You see, what I hadn’t considered was that tender-hearted, knowledgeable, and comforting are three of the more favorable attributes of a Pisces and there’s a flip side to that particular star sign which is some way less alluring.

I checked for the symptoms and they were all there. Self-pitying, out of touch with reality and awfully clingy – a trio of reasons why our short love affair couldn’t hope to continue. Suddenly the vein was back in full force, only this time accompanied by the kind of pitiful whining that can extinguish the flames of passion instantaneously. Then it began to dawn on me, this was emotional entrapment and this whole thing had been all about him. Wayne couldn’t ever love me. Not truly. 

What girl doesn’t want to be told she’s beautiful? The problem is, that was all Wayne saw. I was nothing more than an object to lust over, a trophy to brag about to his friends, and my feelings hadn’t once figured into his plans. Granted, he had no issue professing his everlasting devotion to me, but he did so while sobbing into his pillow, and I knew then just how hollow his words were. The thing is, while he had the histrionics well and truly down to pat, it was my heart breaking inside.

I felt cheated, lured into love under false pretenses, and the biggest sucker on the entire planet. For a moment there it seemed I may have found my dashing prince but the reality was some way from the fantasy on this occasion. It was time to bid Wayne adieu and go our separate ways. As painful as that might be for both parties, it just felt like the right thing to do, but I made sure to prepare him breakfast in bed before I left as a parting gesture. How was I to know that tragedy would strike so unexpectedly?

First Jerry, now Wayne. I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m ever destined to find my happily ever after. There’s certainly no lack of commitment on my part. I love generously, cook for them, indulge their every sexual fantasy, do everything in my power to ensure that they’re satisfied. And what do I get in return? Bitterness and resentment. It’s as though they hold me culpable for not being able to spread their wings and play the field. Perhaps it’s true what the other ladies say, maybe men aren’t equipped to love, at least, not the way we do. So the way I see it, this leaves me two choices.

Either I change my approach and go against everything the fairy tales taught me as a little girl. I mean, it’s not like I need a man to define me. If things don’t work out, I still have my painting, arts and crafts, soaps, candles, dress lining and of course cooking – plenty of reasons not to feel worthless. Or alternatively, I continue to follow my heart in the hope that, one day, I find a man capable of loving me back the way I deserve. I think I’ll push on with the latter you know. After all, you have to kiss a few frogs right? 

At any rate, I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than listen to me pour my heart out. Let’s talk about you, shall we? What was your husband’s name again? Richard, that’s such a strong name. Richard the Lion-heart. You’re ever so lucky, you know. It must be so reassuring to know that he’ll never stray from the path or so much as look at another woman unduly. Well, not unless she’s a witch and casts some kind of exotic love spell on him, of course. Ha ha. If only such a thing existed, I’m sure they’d bottle it and make a small fortune.

Good grief. Is that the time? You’ll have to excuse me Trish, I’m meeting some friends at the tea room in twenty minutes and we’re off to a renaissance fair no less. Thank you ever so much for stopping by and I really love what you’ve done to the place, by the way. I’m very happy here, as you’ve probably guessed. Sure, there may have been a few bumps in the road along the way, but I live in perpetual hope of finding my prince one day. For all I know, he could be right under my nose and our stars just haven’t quite aligned yet. Now there’s a thought. 

Anyway Trish, feel free to pop over any time, and I do hope Richard turns up soon. I’m sure he’s just got waylaid on his travels. You know men, no concept of time. I’ll be certain to keep an eye out for him and, should our paths cross for some inexplicable reason, then I promise to take the very best care of him. Thanks for stopping by Trish. Cheerio now.

The Love Witch is an extraordinary film and its conjurer, Anna Biller, quite clearly an extraordinary talent. How’s this little lot for multi-tasking – in addition to writing the screenplay (which is simply edible I might add), Biller directs, produces, scores and edits this beast and it doesn’t even end there. Set and costume design are also down to her and, when you consider the love and care that goes into every last lavish frame of 35mm film, the sheer magnitude of Biller’s undertaking is brought into dizzyingly crisp focus.

So she’s a narcissist then? I much prefer the word perfectionist actually and she damn near almost achieves it, by the way. She may know how to roll up her sleeves, but she’s also aware that many hands make light work and declines to step in front of the camera, as she has previously. Instead, she uses New York-born actress Samantha Robinson as her vessel and the choice turns out to be an astute one. There’s undoubtedly a lot of her in our leading lady and Robinson provides the most exquisite channel for her vision.

Her performance is pure satin, her delivery never less than sincere, and the spell she casts on our senses, nothing whatsoever less than encompassing. As a result, we warm instantly to Ms. Parks and our devotion falters not throughout. Elaine’s methods of snagging her prince may be slightly unorthodox – brewing potent elixirs out of piss water, nails and spent period blood – but Robinson’s prize-winning peepers supply a most handsome window to her soul.

That still makes Biller a feminist though, doesn’t it? Not so fast my fidgety fellow “critics”, The Love Witch isn’t a feminist statement, at least that’s not what I took from the experience. It’s merely a film made to appeal primarily to the fairer sex. I get that the timing is rather uncanny, what with equal opportunities being hot topic and all, but I suspect that the whole point of this exercise has become somewhat lost in translation.

Whether you elect to view The Love Witch as an affectionate hark back to the glory days of Technicolor, satire of the pulp paperback novels and melodramas that were all the rage at the time, or dig deeper to source its true meaning, Biller’s grand spectacle is a marvel of modern-day filmmaking and deserves every accolade that comes its way, regardless of any thematic misconceptions. I do hope Elaine finds her prince, that he rides gallantly in on his white horse just as the fairy tales promised. Whether love comes to us willingly or we’re required to concoct a few flavorsome vials to coerce it our way, we all deserve that happy ending.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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