Horror is this blog collab’s bread and butter, but as Christa and I have lamented, horror can be a terribly misogynistic genre. How refreshing, then, to watch a female-centric horror about witches that has a lot to say about women and power just in time for the 2nd week of our 2nd Feminist February. Complete with a lovely ’60s aesthetic, medieval pageantry, and harp accompaniment!
The Love Witch
A young witch uses magic and sex appeal to find love and happiness in 1960s California.
The Uncondensed Version:
Elaine is a young woman on the way to start over in small-town California after husband Jerry’s mysterious death. After his death, Elaine was reborn as a witch in a strange occult ritual (at least that’s what I gather). Now that she has the power of love and sex magic at her disposal, she’s determined to find a man who won’t disappoint her like Jerry.
Once she settles into the new place, she befriends a neighbor, Trish, who takes her to a Victorian tea room. It’s really bizarre and comes complete with a woman constantly playing the harp, and everything decorated with delicate cream and pastel pinks. I’ve just really never been a pastel pink kind of girl.
Elaine tells Trish of her sordid past, which has taught her to give men everything they want in order for women to get what they want in turn. Magic is simply a way to use your will to get what you want, and Elaine seems to have special magic staring powers to influence men. As Trish (fairly) puts it, it sounds like Elaine has been brainwashed by the patriarchy.
Shortly after, Elaine uses her magic stare to invite herself back to a university professor’s cottage in the woods. That, and a love potion laced with hallucinogenic herbs. After sleeping with Elaine, the prof (Wayne) becomes incredibly emotional and obsessed with her, claiming he’s unable to live without her. As it turns out, not an exaggeration—he dies very soon after, leaving Elaine with a body to bury and evidence to burn.
Rumors start flying around town around witch murders, casting doubt on the entire witch community. It should be added that witchcraft is treated as just another religion in this film, with practices that look strange to the outside observer but no less valid than mainstream religions. This begins to shift as the bodies pile up (spoiler?).
Determined to bounce back, Elaine sets her sights on Trish’s husband when he’s conveniently left alone for the weekend. Let’s just say this doesn’t end well at all for him.
Meanwhile, the police are investigating Wayne’s suspicious disappearance and all signs point towards Elaine. Luckily, Elaine still has that magic eye trick up her sleeve, and manages to get a horseback riding date (not a euphemism) with a detective (Griff) instead of a murder charge. While out together, the pair encounter a group of witches having some sort of medieval pageant, including fake sword fights and songs about unicorns and goblets of joy. Pretty cringe-y, TBH. There, Elaine and Griff are bound together in a fake marriage ceremony, finally fulfilling Elaine’s happily ever after fantasy. At least for the moment… Believe me when I say the ending gets appropriately dark and gory.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
The aesthetic is beautiful, and of course I’m all about feminism in films. One of the biggest challenges in dissecting this one, however, is that none of the characters are particularly likeable. It’s never overly clear to me whether Elaine believes her own nonsense re: men or, like magic, she’s using these lies to get what she wants. She’s not as straightforwardly feminist as I expected, caught between wanting to assert her independence and hoping to live out her princess fantasies. I was really hoping she would have a better relationship with Trish because I’m all about that female solidarity.
Compounding the problem of unlikeable characters is that of one-dimensional acting, which I think is supposed to be part of the tribute to ‘60s films…but sometimes I can’t actually tell either way.
The dialogue gets a bit preachy at times, hitting you over the head with its meaning. Elaine gets some classic lines (“According to experts, men are fragile and can be crushed if you assert yourself”) along with some truly horrible lines (“I’m the love witch; I’m your ultimate fantasy”).
However, it’s nice to see a film address the complexity of feminist issues surrounding female sexuality in a world where “virgin slut” is an actual insult that can be hurled at women with no one blinking an eye. I admit I’m still puzzling about this movie, and that’s not a bad thing at all.