The Love Witch is a 2016 American comedy horror/tragedy film written, edited, directed, produced, and scored by Anna Biller. The film stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine Parks, a modern-day witch who uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her with disastrous results. Shot in Los Angeles and Arcata, California, it premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. In May 2016, it was acquired for distribution at the Cannes Marché du Film by Oscilloscope Laboratories.
The film received a limited release in the United States on November 11, 2016. The Love Witch was shot on 35mm film, and printed from an original cut negative. The film has received positive reviews for its playful tribute to 1960s horror and Technicolor films, combined with its serious inquiry into contemporary gender roles.
The film opens with Elaine, a beautiful young witch, driving to Arcata, California, to start a new life after the death of her husband Jerry. It is heavily implied that Elaine murdered him. Once there, she rents an apartment in a Victorian home owned by Elaine's mentor Barbara and kept up by its interior decorator, Trish Manning. Trish takes Elaine to a teahouse and while they get to know one another, her husband Richard arrives to the women only restaurant. Since he is standing behind her, Trish doesn't realize that he became besotted with Elaine at first sight. Ignoring his obvious interest, Elaine performs a ritual to find a new lover and soon meets Wayne, a literature professor at the local college.
The two buy groceries and travel to Wayne's cabin, where she makes them dinner and gets him to drink a concoction containing berries, alcohol and hallucinogens. The two have sex, after which Wayne becomes emotional and clingy, which she isn't happy with. Throughout the night he calls out for her while she sleeps on the couch. She makes him breakfast that he doesn't eat due to his grief from believing that the previous night was a nightmare. When she tries to wake him later, she finds him dead and mourns before burying his body along with a witch bottle containing her urine and used tampon. She decides that the next man she will try to seduce will be Richard since he is married and can't obsess over her. While Trish is away, Elaine invites him over to her apartment, where she also serves him a concoction before seducing him with a dance. The night ends with them having sex. Afterwards, Richard does become obsessed with Elaine, causing her to abandon their affair. He then drinks himself into a stupor while ignoring Trish.
Unbeknownst to Elaine, one of Wayne's colleagues has reported him missing, leading to police officer Griff to investigate and discover Wayne's body and Elaine's witch bottle at his cabin. He traces it to Elaine who denies knowing or recognizing Wayne. Over his interrogation, he falls in love with her. Elaine shares his love and believes him to be the man of her dreams since it was foretold in her tarot card readings. She even has her coven hold a mock wedding for them at a Renaissance faire they come across while horseback riding.
Griff's superior educates him on the tenuous peace between the town and the witches then tells him to abandon the pursuit of Elaine as a suspect. When his partner Steve pushes him, he reveals that Wayne died of a heart attack and that the devil's weed found in his system grew around his cabin. For the first time it is revealed that Jerry died shortly before remarrying - from a drug overdose even though he didn't take drugs. Trish finds Richard has killed himself in the bathtub by slitting his wrists. Despondent, she invites Elaine to tea again and comments on how their lives have basically switched places since meeting. Trish tries on a ring that Griff gave Elaine during their mock wedding, only to forget to return it. After Elaine abruptly leaves, she calls to say that she will drop the ring off on her way home. When she does, she is intrigued by what she sees and begins to dress and make up like Elaine including her wig and lingerie. When she finds Elaine's altar, she continues to snoop and discovers that she was the woman Richard had the affair with. She is caught by Elaine and the two fight before Trish leaves the apartment with physical evidence.
Elaine's coven does a love ritual for her and Griff. While Griff is at the strip bar, the employees express their dislike of the new dancers who are known to be friends of the witches. When Elaine arrives, he confronts her over the deaths of Wayne and Richard. He tells her that she is tied to both of them by DNA evidence and produces the items Trish took. Elaine explains how she came to be this way throughout her life and that being a witch is no longer a crime punishable by death. When Griff explains that Elaine has to go to jail for the crimes she did commit even if they weren't murder, the eavesdropping employees realize that she is a witch and the patrons chant "burn the witch" while they attempt to rape her. Although he is upset with her, Griff helps her to escape back to her apartment, getting beaten up in the process.
Once safe inside, Elaine concocts a drink for him like she did for the others, but he drops it on the floor instead of drinking it. Realizing that he was correct when telling her that no man can ever love her enough, she shrinks back in disbelief, grabs her athame and stabs him to death. With Griff dead, life has imitated art and matches the painting on the wall of them dressed like at their mock wedding and her kneeling over his body with a bloody dagger. In delirium, she smiles and imagines them at their wedding and that Griff actually proposed.
The Love Witch uses the figure of the witch as a metaphor for women in general, as both an embodiment of men's fears of women, and of women's own innate powers of intuition and as mothers and sorceresses. The lead character of the film is a young woman who uses magic to make men love her. Her character is an examination of the femme fatale archetype. The film embraces the camp of 1960s horror, examining issues of love, desire, and narcissism through a feminist perspective. Anna Biller is a feminist filmmaker whose take on cinema is influenced by feminist film theory.
Samantha Robinson as Elaine Parks
Gian Keys as Griff Meadows
Laura Waddell as Trish
Jeffrey Vincent Parise as Wayne Peters
Jared Sanford as Gahan
Robert Seeley as Richard
Jennifer Ingrum as Barbara
Clive Ashborn as Professor King
Lily Holleman as Shelley Curtis
Stephen Wozniak as Jerry
Elle Evans as Star
Fair Micaela Griffin as Moon
"A hothouse filled with deadly and seductive blooms"
-The NY Times
"A glorious feast for the senses as well as for the mind"
"Destined to be a cult classic"