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Anna Biller's grindhouse homage 'The Love Witch' casts a spell

Written by
Michael Smith

The Love Witch, the year’s most singular independent feature, opens its weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center this Friday. Written and directed by Anna Biller (Viva), this pungent feminist parable pays expert homage to and hilariously satirizes grindhouse genres popular in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, notably the occult thriller and softcore porn. The film is so exacting in its loving recreation of the sights and sounds of that era (especially in terms of costume and set design, which Biller literally worked on for years before filming) that one could easily mistake it as actually originating from the period—until a character pulls out a cell phone. While obviously the work of a hardcore cinephile, The Love Witch is also much more than mere pastiche; lurking beneath the kitschy surface is a genuine sense of tragedy as well as a thematically complex statement about gender relations in the real world and the reel world.

The plot concerns the eponymous character, recently widowed Elaine (played to perfection by the bewitching Samantha Robinson), relocating from San Francisco to a small town among the redwoods. Elaine has an insatiable desire to be loved and presents herself to every hunk she meets as his ultimate fantasy in order to “unlock his love potential.” Samantha is both a sympathetic heroine with a near-religious view of romantic love as uncompromising ideal (Biller has cited Dreyer’s Gertrud as an influence) as well as a funhouse-mirror of the shallowest desires of the men she encounters—all of whom soon realize that Samantha’s love comes at a price. When the bodies start piling up, Detective Griff (Gian Keys) investigates but soon finds that he is not entirely immune to Samantha’s charms. Fittingly for a film with a retro-aesthetic, The Love Witch will screen at the Siskel in a 35mm print, making it a crucial big-screen experience for local movie fans. 

The Love Witch opens on Friday, November 25 and runs through Thursday, December 1. For more information, including ticket info and showtimes, visit

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