The Stepford Coven: Battle of the Hexes
I’ve always been a big fan of indie film company Oscilloscope Laboratories founded by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and A24 founder David Fenkel. Every time their very distinct logo pops up in the opening credits of a film you know you’re going to be presented with something wonderfully idiosyncratic, unique and rewarding. You might not always gel with the work, but that’s not an issue, you can still appreciate the radiant individuality.
On this occasion and stepping up to the cauldron with truly spell binding effect we have the glorious Anna Biller’s ‘The Love Witch’ (2016). Like it’s title there is a divine purity in it’s immediate message as we meet the equally divine beauty of Elaine (Samantha Robinson) as she is moving on to pastures (or death beds) new after the passing of her lover. But not in a mournful way. Seemingly emotively nurtured and marinated in the relationship columns of trashy magazines, books and princess movies, Elaine has some very clear guidelines and opinions on men, especially in how to effectively hunt down the right one. After all ‘According to the experts, Men are very fragile. They can get crushed down if you assert yourself in any way, you have to be tricky’. So the demise of her lover just meant he wasn’t up to the job of being her partner. And quite right too.
Thankfully she has the skill set, knowledge and training of being a practicing witch (it helps that she’s stunningly beautiful too), so things are always looking up in the eternal quest for the suitor who will win her heart. In the mean time she might have some fun along the way, after all, you never know who ‘the one’ is, and she is addicted to love, so it’s best to try out a few regardless of their current relationship status. In this world Facebook will have to add ‘Bewitched’ to the relationship options.
The movie is set in contemporary times, but though a simply glorious filter of 60/70s TV, fashion, movies, ideologies, language and all shot in sumptuous 35mm film. There are balustrades of Hammer horror, the Technicolor colour of Adam West’s 60s ‘Batman’ and beautifully blatant straw hat tips and extreme femininity of ‘The Stepford Wives’ (1975), all lovingly ring mastered by an outstanding performance by Robinson that had me constantly thinking of equally mesmeric Diana Rigg in ‘The Avengers’, of which the movie has caressing, purring feline notes of too.
But it’s not all window dressing. There’s a killer, sharp, erudite and subtly vicious script too. Written by Biller herself it wilfully plays with words like a kitten and a mouse. It seems like fun, but it can be joyfully brutal/fatal too if you are paying attention. It’s hysterically funny and very rewarding for the attentive as it slices through the worlds we create for ourselves and the misguided beliefs that we all hold and allow steer us through life, relationships and genders. There are many fantastic scenes especially in regards the internal dialogue of the characters during a wedding ceremony, or indeed the recurring joke about tampons, which really goes to show there aren’t enough jokes about tampons in movies. And of course there’s the women only tea room which is worth the price of admission alone.
It should be mentioned that in this very unique world there is a acting style/projection that is as deliberately artificial that again echoes back to distant periods in TV/movie land. This may put some folk off, but I found it simply giddy genius. To maintain such a defined style across the board with all the actors giving wondrous distinctive (from slight to outrageous) performances, that may appear stilted, but are a pure imbued pleasure to watch.
Quite aptly ‘The Love Witch’ is a fecund world glowing on all fronts (especially artistic) which is an absolute credit to Biller who wrote, produced, directed, edited and still had time to create glorious sets and costumes. All beautifully lavish and enraptured in a great soundtrack including some choice Ennio Morricone tracks and indeed Biller shows her enviable talents again in contributing to the soundtrack. The movie looks absolutely fantastic too with gorgeous and very playful cinematography by M. David Mullen.
It’s ever so slightly long, but never outstays its welcome. It’s not going to work it’s spell on everyone, but if anything that’s what makes it all the more magical, I LOVED it! It rightly becomes your found and cherished treasure, not some gaudy common tat. I can’t wait to see what Biller creates next.
It absolutely should be seen in the cinema too to experience the full power of it’s incantation, but equally so I can’t wait till I have a blu-ray copy to regularly bewitch new members into the sacred sexy coven, without the dying bit of course.
9/10 ‘The Love Witch’ is in cinemas now.