THE LOVE WITCH: AN UNCONVENTIONAL REVIEW
“Never forget that you are a woman, and the greatest powers you can employ as a witch are totally dependent upon your own self-realization that in being a woman you are different from a man and that very difference must be exploited.”
– Anton LaVey, The Satanic Witch
THE LOVE WITCH is a movie about a beautiful, vampy woman named Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson, who could probably be Lana Del Rey’s older sister) who has moved to a new town for a fresh start, and to seek out a man to love her using the powers of her newfound witchcraft. But it soon becomes clear that Elaine is deeply damaged, and her ideology about what it means to love is founded upon unsettling ideas about the fragility of men, and the responsibility of a woman to commit to satisfying his desires.
A review about THE LOVE WITCH wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that it’s shot in gorgeous 35mm, in homage to 1960s Technicolor thrillers and American exploitation films. Every shot is sumptuous, and carefully color coordinated – from the deep reds of Elaine’s car, lipstick, and luggage, to the pastel softness of a lady’s only tea room, to the magic rituals that could be pulled straight from a tarot card illustration. None of these sets could exist in the real world. They’re too careful, too clean. It pushes THE LOVE WITCH into a realm that’s not quite reality, almost a few inches to the left, as if we’re viewing the movie through a sort of subconscious filter. The effect is that the landscape becomes an emotional one, reflecting back Elaine’s sensuous and disillusioned inner world.
In the beginning of the film Elaine tells her new friend Trish, as they dine on tea and pastel cakes in the tea room, how she has come to understand the psychology of men.
“Men are like children, they’re very easy to please, as long as we give them what they want… [They just want] a pretty woman to love, and to take care of them, and to make them feel like a man. And to give them total freedom in whatever they want to do or be.”
Trish is horrified. She asks Elaine “But what about what we want?”, and goes on to say that women can never be equals if they’re always catering to men’s needs. Elaine however, is unperturbed, and we soon follow her as she rides with a man she just met to his woodland cabin, feeds him a hallucinogenic tincture, and seduces him.
Elaine has made herself into what she believes men want. She’s reduced and shrunk herself into a tool for manipulation. Magic is about manipulation, after all, about subverting nature to get what you desire. Every aspect of her personality is about making herself pleasing so that she can receive love. That’s why she appears as a one-dimensional character, a caricature – she says herself that she is a man’s “ultimate fantasy” – and a fantasy is an ideal where reality falls in between the gaps.
But the problem is that her magic works.
The men she encounters fall in love with her, bewildered and dazzled by her sensuous displays and her absolute willingness to listen and accommodate their needs. They become infatuated with her, over-emotional, out of control, unused to the seemingly unconditional love and fulfillment that Elaine provides. Elaine puts herself in the role of caretaker, but finds herself unable to satisfy them, and quickly grows tired of their childlike demands for her attention. Her personality and desires become lost in the ever-increasing hole of their demands.
I wrote about something similar in a story in my collection Ecstatic Inferno, ‘The Dog That Bit Her.’
“Sometimes I asked myself if I truly loved the girl in the white dress standing outside my window, or if instead I loved the quiet cool place that occupied the space of her, still enough to see my own reflection. That is the curse many of us carry, I think: we wander the earth looking for ourselves and instead we find the quiet girls, the looking for love girls, and we fill the blank spaces with who we think they should be.”
Elaine was able to make men fall in love, but it wasn’t with her. It was the fantasy that she provided. That’s why she finds herself increasingly unsatisfied with the objects of her affection. She isn’t the one receiving the love she desires; it’s her carefully constructed persona. And if you expend so much effort into being what other people desire it’ll leave you feeling empty. Hollow. You’re a reflection of everyone else around you. No light can go through the mirrors that you’ve set up in order to attract people to you.
As I watched THE LOVE WITCH, it began to conjure up memories of my own past relationships. I’m sitting at my desk in my room, and they flit by like ghosts. The pain of the memories sat in my stomach. They never had to coalesce into full blown scenes from my past. I could feel their echoes in a sad or exhausted look from Elaine, in the infatuation of her lovers, in the moments that she became exhausted by them, in her confusion and desire.
To many women, Elaine isn’t a ridiculous, sexed up caricature. She is a representation of an archetype, a shadow self that many of us feel – a product of low self-esteem, societal pressure, abuse, and sexism.
It’s easy to be accommodating, to ascertain the needs of others and receive their attention and affection. Many self-help books about relationship advice and attracting others is about making yourself more appealing to them with, well, social witchcraft that isn’t much different than the antics found in THE LOVE WITCH. Manipulation. It’s about listening to them, telling them you understand, anticipating their needs, making them feel special. But there’s rarely a caveat that suppressing your own desires can soon turn back upon you, making you unhappy in devastating ways.
It’s not a bad thing to be desirable, but it’s easy to tilt into the dark regions of lost identity, in the pursuit to please.
I won’t spoil the ending, but all of Elaine’s misguided effort is eventually turned back on her in a grisly and terrifying scene. She sees the result of the kind of love that she has perpetuated looking back at her, with all of its sensual illusions stripped away.
Autumn Christian is the author of The Crooked God Machine, We are Wormwood, and Ecstatic Inferno. She is waiting for the day when she hits her head on the cabinet searching for the popcorn bowl and all consensus reality dissolves. She’s been a freelance writer, a game designer, a cheese producer, a haunted house actor, and a video game tester. She considers Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Katie Jane Garside, the southern gothic, and dubstep, as main sources of inspiration. Check her out on autumnchristian.net and Twitter @teachrobotslove