Give me a witch and a feminist and I’m sure to be your biggest fan. That’s why I couldn’t wait to see Anna Biller’s new erotic horror, The Love Witch. Based solely on premise, I knew the film would be entertaining—I never expected it to be so good.
A combination of ’60s camp and occult, The Love Witch centers on a desperate witch named Elaine, who casts a love spell without realizing she doesn’t need it. What ensues is a romantic tragedy of epic proportions, part comedy, part feminist manifesto. Biller does what most filmmakers can’t or won’t, giving a bold platform to the female experience. The film brings together all the stunning visuals of ’60s technicolor cinema with a subversive feminist edge, reinventing the femme fatale as a modern, and often insecure, woman. Elaine doesn’t understand her beauty or power, even as the audience and other characters lust after her. Biller paints her protagonist as unrelenting, but also relatable, highlighting the beauty in imperfection, while giving viewers the female lead Hollywood desperately needs.
Watch an exclusive scene from The Love Witch, and read our interview with the writer/director, below.
Tell me about The Love Witch.
The Love Witch is a movie about a woman who loves too much. This love ends up destroying her life because she’s internalized a lot of the toxic projections men have of wanting her to be the perfect woman. Perfectly beautiful, sexual, subservient, cooking for them—she’s internalized this idea of herself as the perfect male fantasy, so she’s like a Frankenstein monster created by men. She can’t sustain this perfect image and she has all of these resentments and desires of her own, so she goes out and kind of wreaks destruction on the world with her interest in finding true love, but through this really toxic framework.
What inspired you to make the film?
Mostly life experience, and also relationships I’ve had with men. But also, I was really interested in creating cinematic pleasure for women—a femme fatale that women can identify with, who’s dangerous and dark, but she’s also kind of exciting and interesting and has a lot of dimension.
Desire is a big theme in the film. What other themes do you explore?
The theme of heartbreak is really important—everybody’s heart gets broken in this film, except for the police officer who is punished because of that fact. And Elaine’s heart gets broken, too. So it really is a film about heartbreak. It’s also about desire, but it’s specifically about female desire, whereas most movies are about male desire—because most movies are written by men, about men.
Why did you make Elaine a witch? In your director’s statement you said you wanted Elaine to be a witch because all women are made to feel like witches by the men who don’t understand them.
That’s true. But I also feel there’s something exciting and powerful and magical about being a witch. There’s also something dark and dangerous about it. I really liked the idea that a witch is a type of women that everybody projects onto, all of their own fears and desires—especially if it’s a sexy witch—and I wanted to show the witch from the inside. So I wanted to create a witch that was a siren, but you also feel her feelings and see you where she’s coming from—I think that’s quite different.
So you wanted to make her a sympathetic character?
Not only sympathetic character, but the main character—the character that drives the action.
How did you use Elaine to explore the female sexuality?
She’s a typical femme fatale in terms of the kind of emotions she elicits from both men and women—that’s partly to do with her beauty, and that’s why it was so important for me to cast an actress that was beautiful enough the emotions naturally happened in the viewer. When people see a beautiful woman who’s all done up in hair and makeup—they make all kinds of projections. Men think, ‘Oh I want her, she’s sexy,’ or ‘She’s stuck up, she’d never want me.’ Women project, ‘Oh I want her makeup,’ or ‘I want to look like her,’ or ‘What a bitch, I hate her’—so people make all these projections, and I wanted to make a movie where all the projections are explored. But it’s also a movie about deconstructing those kinds of responses people have women, asking why women who are beautiful elicit these crazy kinds of emotional reactions—where does it come from and what does it mean?
How does she differ from the normal femme fatale archetype?
Normally, you have a femme fatale and that’s just a fact of nature—it’s all about his desire. I really wanted to get people in the mindset of what it’s like to be a woman like her, and think about what her life is like. It’s actually pretty bleak—being continually objectified and everyone’s hysterical around her all the time, and she doesn’t even really have to do anything to get that reaction. That’s sort of the humor of her thinking she needs a love spell to create this response, when really she’s creating it already. In a lot ways, she’s trying to pretend it’s her spell—that that’s the reason it’s all happening—so it gives her some sense of control over the situation.
So even though she’s the lead, she’s always going to be objectified.
Everyone in the film is lusting her, and the film audience even makes her an object of desire—no matter what you do in the script, you can’t get away from that when you have a female lead. In the script itself, the men are the objects of desire. But it really doesn’t matter because everyone is going to want her—no one really cares about the men.
I think a lot of male critics and directors are quick to label a film as feminist, if it’s made by a woman. Is The Love Witch a feminist film?
Being a woman making a film definitely does not assure the film will be feminist—in fact, many times, it’s the complete opposite. I don’t even know if I’d say my film is feminist, but I am a feminist and I made it, and I was incredibly conscious of trying to insert a feminine consciousness into the movie.
So what makes a film feminist, then?
There are a lot of films that are called feminist that have been directed by men because they have female superheroes in them, or something. But that really isn’t a good enough reason. You can look at a film with a female superhero and unless you can say without a doubt that there’s a feminine consciousness at work, it’s not feminist. Like, do we know what she feels? Do we know what she’s thinking? What’s important to her? Does she have an inner life? If you say no to any of those questions, it’s not a feminist film.
Why do you think people are so quick to call anything made by a woman feminist?
I think it’s a conspiracy. Calling everything feminist is a way to take the actual, right meaning and the historical political context out of the word. You can say feminist now, and it can mean almost anything. For example, there are the sex positive feminists that think any sort of display of female sexuality is radical. So you take the most pernicious, most awful, most violent porn in which a woman seems to be enjoying herself, and say that’s feminist, when really, it’s anything but. I have a film, where the whole entire thing is about a woman’s consciousness and the difference between her desires and the viewers projections. But a lot of people are calling it sexploitation, or feminist sexploitation. In my view, that’s an oxymoron—if you’re exploiting anyone, especially a woman, it can’t be feminist.
What do you want people to take away from the film?
I watch so many old movies that were so important to me growing up because they had strong female characters, and I don’t feel like we really have those types of strong female leads anymore. I think about all the young women who never get to see movies with strong female characters that are about them and their consciousness and their experience, and how awful that is. We live in a world where you don’t get great role models if you’re a young woman. I mean, Elaine is crazy, I don’t know if I’d call her a great role model, but she is multidimensional and the film is about her problems and what she’s going through. So I love the fact that the film has really meant something to young women—that’s the best thing and that’s really what I wanted to achieve. I’m really trying to create a women’s cinema, which doesn’t really exist—female-oriented films that center around female fantasy and female pleasure, with female characters that aren’t perfect, but women can identify with.