115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Feminine Eye Reimagines the Gothic Space: Corporeality and Haunted Spaces in The Love Witch and The Witch

Rachel Piwarski, University of Texas, Austin
Raelynn Gosse, "University of Texas, Austin"

We will argue that the constructed visions of the operative female gaze in both The Love Witch and The Witch suggest the potentiality of the female gaze to transcend the gendered limitations and generic boundaries of the gothic and horror, enabling the audience to envision a liminal space wherein the gaze can be liberating and creative instead of repressive or violently masculinized.

Proposal: 

As interventions into contemporary cinematic horror and explorations of the gothic mode, Anna Biller’s instant cult film, The Love Witch and Robert Eggers’ The Witch reimagine the embodied space of the female gothic and gaze of the witch. To begin with, The Love Witch harbors enough theoretical material, feminist commentary, and 35mm cinematography to mark itself as worthy of critical discussion. Released in November of 2016, The Love Witch is a satirical meditation on the contemporary gothic and its expansion into the realms of fantasy and horror. The Love Witch (2015) follows Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a young Priscilla Presley and Elvira-esque woman who we first see driving a classic red sports car on the Northern California Coast. During this scene she laments that her husband tragically left her while the camera cuts in and out of scene to a man covered in her blood, which the audience can presume is her husband. In between these gory yet campy shots, Elaine’s conflicted views on men, female subservience, and love speak to her attempt to live in her world of inverted patriarchy. Echoing this conflict in Biller’s satirical style, Elaine expresses in an innocent voice that: “according to the experts, men are very fragile. They can get crushed down if you assert yourself in any way,” which establishes a cognitive dissonance with her vocal sympathy because the visual elements of the film portray the men dying by her vengeful witch hand. Like Biller’s film, The Witch works within a framework of restricting patriarchal values that both possess and repress female sexuality. Indeed, The Love Witch and The Witch often employ cinematography above narrative, emphasizing the importance of the visual and corporeal experience of women, their bodies, and how men value them.  In the space of classic witch tropes, The Witch illustrates a straightforward and traditional rendering of patriarchy in rural New England in the 1630s. Similar complications with female sexuality and expectations also come to pass when young Thomasin’s burgeoning sexuality is highlighted in her devoutly Puritan household. By contrast, Elaine’s domestic space is where she can fully embody her sexuality. We will argue that the constructed visions of the operative female gaze in both The Love Witch and The Witch suggest the potentiality of the female gaze to transcend the gendered limitations and generic boundaries of the gothic and horror, enabling the audience to envision a liminal space wherein the gaze can be liberating and creative instead of repressive or violently masculinized. We intend to explore both of these films through the lenses of gothic and horror film studies with theoretical support from Linda Williams, Lisa Hopkins, and Barry Grant. From the intersection, juxtaposition, and interplay of these two genres, Elaine, Thomasin—and the viewer—are granted access to another, innately modern and liberated way of seeing. This third way of seeing is reinforced by several long and established shots of Elaine’s perfectly lined eyes and ones that lingers on Thomasin’s sexualized body parts. Elaine and Thomasin actually don't have access to this liberated way of seeing until the end of the films, and it is the audience that must imagine this third gaze. Ultimately, the position of women, and most particularly the witches, in The Love Witch and The Witch can be articulated as occupying the liminal space manifested between the generative meeting of the gothic, contemporary feminism, and cinematic horror--all viewed through the perspective of two very different witches.

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