In 2007, writer-director Anna Biller conjured one of the most delightfully idiosyncratic movies in years with the day-glo indie Viva. As oxymoronic as it sounds, the film was a sort of feminist tribute to the leering sex-bomb cinema of Russ Meyer. It had a groovy Lava-Lamp look that smacked of the late ’60s and an intentionally wooden acting style that telegraphed its irony. It was a movie inside a pair of air quotes. But it was also a hell of a lot of fun to sit through. Now, nine years later, Biller is finally back with The Love Witch—another sexy serving of B-movie ambrosia salad that’s a bit like hearing the same joke told a second time. It’s still funny, just not as surprising.
The raven-haired Samantha Robinson stars as Elaine, a recently jilted seductress who heads to San Francisco in her bright red Mustang convertible and takes revenge on men by dabbling in the black art of “sex magick.” She concocts potions, targets hapless studs, and reduces them to putty with her enchanting ways (not to mention a nude striptease number or two). In the process she becomes their “ultimate fantasy”. But she’s not a very good sorceress since her targets tend to soon keel over and die after drinking her elixirs. And that’s more or less it. Oh, there’s stuff about satanic rituals and a dim hunky detective on her trail. But The Love Witch is so thin that if it turned sideways it would be invisible. It’s like a Bewitched episode stretched out to two hours.
But boy, is it gorgeous to look at. Biller fills every frame with Pucci bursts of color, kitschy Stepford Wives-era artifacts, and tame Frederick’s of Hollywood kink. The acting is as purposefully stiff as its predecessor, although Robinson lands some great deadpan zingers about the pathetic hollowness of alpha-male machismo and the fear of female sexuality. As stylish as The Love Witch is, though, after a while there isn’t much more to it than seeing how far one can put their tongue in their cheek. And its insider exploitation-nerd references will likely only resonate with cinema obscurists who can gas on about the difference between Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Supervixens. Don’t get me wrong. I like those people. I know those people. But two hours in their company can be an hour too long.