Tag Archives: The Love Witch

Fright Club: Looking for Love

Love is in the air! God help us, especially those who are throwing themselves into the love game. It’s horrifying, right? Scary, vulnerable, awkward, and really bloody once the power tools come out.

Horror filmmakers know a good subject when they see one. Here are our five favorite films focused on the quest to find and secure love.

5. Berlin Syndrome

Aussie photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer, better than she’s ever been) is looking for some life experience. She backpacks across Europe, landing for a brief stay in Berlin where she hopes to make a human connection. Handsome Berliner Andi (Max Riemelt) offers exactly the kind of mysterious allure she wants and they fall into a night of passion.

What follows is an incredible combination of horror and emotional dysfunction, deftly maneuvered by both cast mates and director Cate Shortland. The mental and emotional olympics Palmer goes through from the beginning of the film to the end showcase her instincts for nuanced and unsentimental performance. Clare is smart, but emotionally open and free with her own vulnerability. The way Palmer inhabits these characteristics is as authentic as it is awkward.

Even more uncomfortable is the shifting relationship, the neediness and resilience, the dependency and independence. It’s honest in a way that is profoundly moving and endlessly uncomfortable. Riemelt matches Palmer’s vulnerability with his own insecurity and emotional about faces. The two together are an unnerving onscreen pairing.

4. The Love Witch

Wes Anderson with a Black Mass fetish and a feminist point of view, Anna Biller wrote/directed/produced/edited/set-designed/costume-designed/music-supervised this seductive sorcery headtrip.

Elaine (Samantha Robinson – demented perfection) needs a change of scenery. Driving her red convertible up the seacoast highway toward a new life in northern California, her troubles – and her mysteriously dead ex-husband – are behind her. Surely, with her smart eyeshades and magic potions, she’ll find true love.

Expect a loose confection of a plot, as Elaine molds herself into the ideal sex toy, winning and then tiring of her trophies. This allows Biller to simultaneously reaffirm and reverse gender roles with appropriately wicked humor.

3. Alleluia (2014)

In 2004, Belgian writer/director Fabrice Du Welz released the exquisite Calvaire, marking himself a unique artist worth watching. Ten years later he revisits the themes of that film – blind passion, bloody obsession, maddening loneliness – with Alleluia. Once again he enlists the help of an actor who clearly understands his vision.

Laurent Lucas plays Michel, a playboy conman who preys upon lonely women, seducing them and taking whatever cash he can get his hands on. That all changes once he makes a mark of Gloria (Lola Duenas).

Du Welz’s close camera and off angles exaggerate Lucas’s teeth, nose and height in ways that flirt with the grotesque. Likewise, the film dwells on Duenas’s bags and creases, heightening the sense of unseemliness surrounding the pair’s passion.

Duenas offers a performance of mad genius, always barely able to control the tantrum, elation, or desire in any situation. Her bursting passions often lead to carnage, but there’s a madcap love story beneath that blood spray that compels not just attention but, in a macabre way, affection. Alleluia is a film busting with desperation, jealousy, and the darkest kind of love.

2. The Loved Ones (2009)

Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés and deftly maneuvers between angsty, gritty drama and neon colored, glittery carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.

Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.

Byrne quietly crafts an atmosphere of loss and depression in and around the school without painting the troubles cleanly. This slow reveal pulls the tale together and elevates it above a simple work of outrageous violence.

Inside Lola’s house, the mood is decidedly different. Here, we’re privy to the weirdest, darkest image of a spoiled princess and her daddy. The daddy/daughter bonding over power tool related tasks is – well – I’m not sure touching is the right word for it.

The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, unique piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olB5Wrg8Sxc

1. Audition (1999)

The prolific director Takashi Miike made more than 70 movies in his first 20 or so years in film. Among the best is Audition, a phenomenally creepy May/December romance gone very, very wrong.

Audition tells the story of a widower convinced by his TV producer friend to hold mock television auditions as a way of finding a suitable new mate. He is repaid for his deception.

Nearly unwatchable and yet too compelling to turn away from, Audition is a remarkable piece of genre filmmaking. The slow moving picture builds anticipation, then dread, then full-on horror.

By the time Audition hits its ghastly conclusion, Miike and his exquisitely terrifying antagonist (Eihi Shina) have wrung the audience dry. She will not be the ideal stepmother.

Black Magic Woman

The Love Witch

by Hope Madden

Anna Biller, everybody. Holy shit.

Wes Anderson with a Black Mass fetish and a feminist point of view, Biller wrote/directed/produced/edited/set-designed/costume-designed/music-supervised the seductive sorcery headtrip The Love Witch.

Elaine (Samantha Robinson – demented perfection) needs a change of scenery. Driving her red convertible up the seacoast highway toward a new life in northern California, her troubles – and her mysteriously dead ex-husband – are behind her. Surely, with her smart eyeshades and magic potions, she’ll find true love.

Shot in dreamy 35mm and produced in lurid Technicolor, the film achieves a retro aesthetic unparalleled in modern cinema. And yet, a mid-film cell phone and third act DNA evidence pulls you from the hip Sixties spell of burlesque shows and tea rooms – but don’t mistake this for anachronism. Instead, it fits perfectly into a narrative that sees a deranged lunatic embrace archaic gender roles with the rage of one already ruined by them.

Enough cannot be said for Biller’s imagination for detail – from the contents of a “witch bottle” to the retro look of every actor, the era-evoking flatness in line delivery to the excruciating art adorning Elaine’s walls.

The orgy of colors, textures and dessert treats signifies the sensual madness eating away at poor, narcissistic Elaine.

Biller’s casting sense is as keen. Every actor not only fully embraces the weirdness of Biller’s spell, but each looks like they just walked out of a Sears Roebuck catalog circa 1968.

Expect a loose confection of a plot, as Elaine molds herself into the ideal sex toy, winning and then tiring of her trophies. This allows Biller to simultaneously reaffirm and reverse gender roles with appropriately wicked humor.

Biller pulls thematically from her 2007 film Viva, but her epic knowledge of the sexual revolution era Black Magic Woman flicks (Oh, there are plenty: Mephisto’s Waltz, Season of the Witch, The Velvet Vampire) and her clear growth in her craft help The Love Witch exceed all expectations.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Fright Club: Best Horror of 2016

So much great horror in 2016! We may not have had that much to be happy about last year – besides the Cavs national championship (hooray!!) – but at least we can celebrate one outstanding 365 days of horror.

Joined by Killumbus Horror’s fearless leader Bridget, we argue about what is and is not horror – and whether Neon Demon thrills or disappoints – plus a few words on scissoring.

10. Demon

Like the mournful soul that clings to poor bridegroom Piotr (Itay Tiran), Demon sticks to you. Director/co-writer Marcin Wrona’s final feature (he ended his life at a recent festival where the film was playing) offers a spooky, atmospheric rumination on cultural loss.

Wrona sets the Hebrew folktale of the dybbuk – a ghost that possesses the living – inside a Catholic wedding, accomplishing two things in the process. On the surface, he tells an affecting ghost story. More deeply, though, he laments cultural amnesia and reminds us that our collective past continues to haunt us.

With just a hint of Kubrick – never a bad place to go for ghost story inspiration – Wrona combines the familiar with the surprising. His film echoes with a deeply felt pain -a sense of anguish, often depicted as scenes of celebration clash with unexplained images of abject grief.

9. The Love Witch

Wes Anderson with a Black Mass fetish and a feminist point of view, Anna Biller wrote/directed/produced/edited/set-designed/costume-designed/music-supervised the seductive sorcery headtrip The Love Witch.

Elaine (Samantha Robinson – demented perfection) needs a change of scenery. Driving her red convertible up the seacoast highway toward a new life in northern California, her troubles – and her mysteriously dead ex-husband – are behind her. Surely, with her smart eyeshades and magic potions, she’ll find true love.

Expect a loose confection of a plot, as Elaine molds herself into the ideal sex toy, winning and then tiring of her trophies. This allows Biller to simultaneously reaffirm and reverse gender roles with appropriately wicked humor.

8. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Less a sequel than a tangentially related piece, 10 Cloverfield Lane amplifies tensions with genuine filmmaking craftsmanship, unveiling more than one kind of monster.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes from a car crash handcuffed to a pipe in a bunker. Howard (John Goodman, top-notch as usual), may simply be saving her from herself and the apocalypse outside. Good natured Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) certainly thinks so.

Goodman is phenomenal, but Winstead and Gallagher prove, once again, to be among the strongest young actors working in independent film today.

Talented newcomer Dan Trachtenberg toys with tensions as well as claustrophobia in a film that finds often terrifying relevance in the most mundane moments, each leading through a mystery to a hell of a climax.

7. The Wailing

“Why are you troubled,” Jesus asked, “and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see — for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Though the true meaning of this quote won’t take hold until the final act, it presents many questions. Is this film supernatural? Demonic? Or, given the corporeal nature of the quote, is it rooted in the human flesh?

Yes.

That’s what makes the quote so perfect. Na meshes everything together in this bucolic horror where superstition and religion blend. The film echoes with misery, as the title suggests. The filmmaker throws every grisly thing at you – zombies, pustules, demonic possession, police procedural, multiple homicides – and yet keeps it all slippery with overt comedy.

6. The Greasy Strangler

Like the by-product of a high cholesterol diet, The Greasy Strangler will lodge itself into your brain and do a lot of damage.

A touching father/son story about romance, car washes and disco, this movie is like little else ever set to film. Both men fall for one particular “rootie tootie disco cutie,” and if that wasn’t enough, there’s a marauder on the loose – an inhuman beast covered head to toe in cooking grease.

The brilliantly awkward comedy leaves you scratching your head. Every absurd character begs for more screen time, and yet, each gag (and you will gag) goes on for an almost unendurable length of time.

The result is ingenious. Or repellant. Or maybe hilarious – it just depends on your tolerance for WTF horror and sick, sick shit. Whatever else it may be, though, The Greasy Strangler is – I promise you – hard to forget.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPl1vcb4hao

5. Don’t Breathe

For his sophomore effort Don’t Breathe, director Fede Alvarez dials down the blood and gore in favor of almost unbearable tension generated through masterful deployment of set design, sound design, cinematography and one sparse but effective premise.

Young thugs systematically robbing the few remaining upscale Detroit homeowners follow their alpha to a surefire hit: a blind man (Stephen Lang) sitting on $300k.

This is a scrappy film that gives you very little in the way of character development, backstory or scope. Instead, Alvarez focuses so intently on what’s in front of you that you cannot escape – a tension particularly well suited to this claustrophobic nightmare.

4. Under the Shadow

Our tale is set in Tehran circa 1988, at the height of the Iran/Iraq war and just a few years into the “Cultural Revolution” that enforced fundamentalist ideologies.

Shideh (a fearless Narges Rashidi) has been banned from returning to medical school because of her pre-war political leanings. Her husband, a practicing physician, is serving his yearly medical duty with the troops. This leaves Shideh and their young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) alone in their apartment as missiles rain on Tehran.

When a dud missile plants itself in the roof of the building (shades of del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone), Dora starts talking to a secret friend. Maybe the friend would be a better mommy.

The fact that this menacing presence – a djinn, or wind spirit – takes the shape of a flapping, floating burka is no random choice. Shideh’s failure in this moment will determine her daughter’s entire future.

3. Green Room

The tragic loss of 27-year-old talent Anton Yelchin makes this one bittersweet. Young punk band the Ain’t Rights is in desperate need of a paying gig, even if it is at a rough private club for the “boots and braces” crowd (i.e. white power skinheads). Bass guitarist Pat (Yelchin) eschews social media promotion for the “time and aggression” of live shows, and when he accidentally witnesses a murder in the club’s makeshift green room, Pat and his band find plenty of both.

Along with concertgoer Amber (a terrific Imogen Poots), they’re held at gunpoint while the club manager (Macon Blair from Blue Ruin) fetches the mysterious Darcy (Patrick Stewart, gloriously grim) to sort things out. Though Darcy is full of calm reassurances, it quickly becomes clear the captives will have to fight for their lives.

As he did with Blue Ruin, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier plunges unprepared characters into a world of casual savagery, finding out just what they have to offer in a nasty backwoods standoff.

It’s lean, mean, loud and grisly, and a ton of bloody fun.

2. The Eyes of My Mother

First time feature writer/director Nicolas Pesce, with a hell of an assist from cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, casts an eerie spell of lonesome bucolic horror.

There is much power in dropping an audience into a lived-in world – the less we know, the better. Pesce understands this in the same way Tobe Hooper did with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and though The Eyes of My Mother lacks the cynicism, satire and power tools of Hooper’s farmhouse classic, it treads some similar ground.

Where Eyes differs most dramatically from other films is in its restraint. The action is mostly off-screen, leaving us with the sounds of horror and the quiet clean-up of its aftermath to tell us more than we really want to know.

1. The Witch

In set design, dialog, tension-building and performances this film creates an unseemly familial intimacy that you feel guilty for stumbling into. There is an authenticity here – and an opportunity to feel real empathy for this Puritan family – that may never have been reached in a “burn the witch” horror film before.

On the surface The Witch is an “into the woods” horror film that manages to be one part The Crucible, one part The Shining. Below that, though, is a peek into radicalization as relevant today as it would have been in the 1600s.

Beautiful, authentic and boasting spooky lines and images that are equally beautiful and haunting, it is a film – painstakingly crafted by writer/director Robert Eggers – that marks a true new visionary for the genre.