OSCILLOSCOPE LABORATORIES (2017)

 

Director: Anna Biller

 

Starring: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum

“Men are very fragile, they can get crushed down if you assert yourself in any way.”

 

Written, directed, and edited by Anna Biller (also responsible for its production design, costume design, and music) The Love Witch is a beguiling movie asking the question, “What would happen if men loved women as strongly as women want them to?” and how men emotionally react to their feelings.

 

It may not sound enthralling, however Biller has shaped and crafted a beautiful looking movie with touches of Italian horror/giallo, Hammer and Hitchcock all clothed in glorious 60’s Technicolour (shot on 35mm film) and with loving rear projection shots aplenty.

The movie is more than just a charming throwback to a more glamorous (if not synthetic) era. The bubbling messages of female empowerment through their desire to be loved and adored in equal measures as they provide sears through the narrative – also, how sexual power can be used as a symbol of potency. This is how white witch Elaine (Robinson) seduces her would be lovers, through dazzling eyeshadow, seductive stares, alluring lingerie and by taking charge with her body. Problem is, none of the men she lures in can face the power of the emotions she arouses in them and end up weak, blubbering and finally, dead.

 

Having moved from San Francisco after the death of her husband, Elaine moves to a small town in Northern California. Cruising in a red Mustang, with a red dress on, red stilettos and striking red lipstick, it’s a sharp introduction for her. That is until she is pulled over by square jawed hunk/police officer Griff (Keys) who retains his professionalism faced with Elaine’s subtle advances. Waiting in her new town is an apartment rented from best friend and mentor Barbara (Ingrum) – it’s full of witchcraft images and ornaments and the décor screams Gothic. The designer, Trish (Waddell), whisks Elaine off for tea at a woman’s only teahouse to befriend her – but it’s when Trish’s husband Richard (Seeley) arrives that Elaine’s interest is piqued. Her mesmerising stare begins to take hold on him before he leaves. There’s no such luck for Wayne (Parise) – he caught Elaine’s eye and take her to his cabin in the woods for some good times but he cannot complete with his urgent emotions as his desire for Elaine spills out. It doesn’t end well for him.

 

As men are seduced and emotionally destroyed by the power of Elaine’s love and need, the local police, and Griff, are alerted to the growing pile of bodies stacking up in their town and all signs point to witchcraft in every death.

 

Throughout, Biller searches the female regard, addressing the boundaries of women’s sexual fantasies. The men that Elaine seeks out and seduces, what is it they’re after? Her body? Her heart? She obviously receives sexual pleasure, but upon having to open up and face their emotions, the men all crumble and implode. Biller message is clear – men harbour huge emotions, but can’t bring themselves to face them. There’s nothing sexist or misandry here, however. It’s a greater study in the power women can possess using nothing more than love.

 

As Elaine, Samantha Robinson is pitch-perfect. She exudes an aura of power, sexuality and beauty behind a Stepford Wives delivery. Her poise, gently strong eyebrow flicks, black eyeliner and blue eyeshadow are so distinct that it’s impossible to look away. Character defining stuff. The cast have been cleverly compiled with a past image in mind, and characteristics as well, there’s a real eye for detail here. As with giallo, the movie features intentionally stilted acting and can be a little humdrum at times. The pacing here stretches to a full two hour runtime, and Biller uses every second to slowly tell her story and provide every small detail she requires. It can be testing at times, including a renaissance fair scene (beautifully shot with a great musical backdrop) but the almost Robin Hood nature may be a turn-off. The witches cavern scenes are also bizarrely fascinating, if not particularly exciting. The ending isn’t as fantastical as I had hoped for, but the signs are there all through the movie so keep an eye out.

 

One of the men looked a bit like Eddie Vedder, which made me feel queasy during the love scenes.

 

The music plays a key part during the movie, and whilst much of it is borrowed from virtuoso composer Ennio Morricone’s scores for 60s giallo flicks (which is never a bad thing), Biller also provides the remaining aspects of the score including harp pieces and a folk rock bouncer.

 

In every aspect, The Love Witch is a unique slice of film making in this era of cinema. It will work for some but not for others. Undoubtedly though, it’s a mesmerising reinterpretation of classic cinema and theatrics. With a magnetic lead, beautiful visuals and an offbeat story, The Love Witch is an experience you should give in to.

August 7th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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