Women film directors are disproportionately rarer than their male counterparts, and in the horror genre, one such name is Anna Biller, who’s faced a lot of challenges to put her film out, including sabotage from her own crew who she believes disproves the feminist message within her film. However,  her 2016 feature film, The Love Witch now considered a cult classic, gaining critic’s approval left and right, and scoring 95 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

In The Love Witch, the protagonist Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson) embarks on a quest for love, offering a feminist lens that challenges traditional gender roles within romantic relationships by offering a female character who does not need a man to provide for her. Furthermore, the film delves into the complexities of female fantasies around love and desire such as the idea of meeting the one-true-love, a Prince Charming of sorts, the impact of the male gaze, and the consequences of societal expectations, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality.

The Love Witch poster. Image courtesy of IMDB. 

In the film, Elaine navigates a world influenced by mid-20th-century cinema aesthetics, as Biller uses retro designs, vibrant colours, and meticulous set details to transport audiences to a bygone era, allowing them to reflect on the perpetuation of unrealistic gender dynamics. In this Biller states that the themes being discussed are simultaneously out of time and contemporary, much like gender equality issues that have seen signs of improvement since the 1950s.  Yet, some of the same issues of inequalities have persisted since then, issues that the film outlines and dives into. 

Still from The Love Witch. Image courtesy of IMDB.

The film's narrative follows Elaine, a liberated and independent witch, who seeks love on her own terms. However, the men she meets reveal deeper themes of power, exploitation, and female revenge. Events that challenge societal expectations of women's desires that have often been portrayed to be submissive and meek. The Love Witch critiques unrealistic fantasies ingrained in traditional gender roles, questioning why such outdated portrayals persist in contemporary storytelling where a woman’s pursuit of love relies heavily on a man’s needs and desires. One where a woman is to have their whole existence revolve around the man of their dreams, something that seems impossible to find in real life.

Still from The Love Witch. Image courtesy of IMDB.

A pivotal moment emerges when Elaine decides to use love potions and rituals to make men obsess over her, prompting an exploration of female agency and desire. The film skillfully incorporates elements of witchcraft, presenting a nuanced view of empowerment and exploitation as Elaine makes men fall head over heels for her to do her bidding. Elaine's morally objectionable actions serve as a commentary on the societal pressures shaping women's perceptions of love and their roles in relationships.

Elaine's encounters with men under the influence of her love potions question what would happen if men genuinely loved women without adhering to societal expectations where they have to strictly provide for a woman. Elaine's unwitting victims succumb to intense emotions, challenging the notion that men are less emotional than women. Biller's male characters experience vulnerability and disrupt the traditional romance narrative, suggesting that embracing emotions does not weaken men but exposes the toxicity of suppressing feelings.

The male gaze, a concept introduced by feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey, is dissected in The Love Witch, providing a counter-narrative that challenges the objectification of women in cinema known as the female gaze. Elaine's character is complex, she is both protagonist and antagonist, she defies stereotypes and offers depth rarely afforded to female characters. Her journey becomes a reflection of societal expectations placed on women, inviting viewers to question the authenticity of these expectations.

Still from The Love Witch. Image courtesy of IMDB.

The Love Witch also addresses the impact of trauma on Elaine's character, providing a nuanced exploration of her psyche which in the end, develops sociopathic tendencies. Her character made a journey from victim to perpetrator, with witchcraft helping her gain power over men, underlining the consequences of societal pressures and expectations such as being able to marry and bear children on women’s psyches.

In conclusion, The Love Witch emerges as a feminist cinematic gem, unravelling the tapestry of gender norms and desires. Anna Biller's meticulous attention to detail, coupled with Samantha Robinson's captivating performance, elevates the film beyond a mere genre piece. By critiquing the male gaze, exploring female fantasies, and challenging traditional gender roles, The Love Witch becomes a thought-provoking contribution to the ongoing discourse on gender equality. As viewers immerse themselves in this visually stunning and thematically rich experience, they are compelled to question the narratives that shape their understanding of love, desire, and the intricate dance between genders in a romantic relationship.

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