"This movie is too long" is something I complain about to the point of self-parody, but seriously, The Love Witch is too long to a degree that makes most "too long" movies seem painfully efficient. It's a pastiche - a pastiche so good that it feels like we need some other word to describe how good it is - of a genre of films that were generally not prone to being more than 80 or 90 minutes, and were already pretty annoying when they broke past that point, and yet here The Love Witch is, running all the damn way up to 120 minutes on the dot. Mercilessly carve out a third of that running time, and suddenly we have one of 2016's best, most subversively smart and deliciously entertaining films. Instead, we have a film that has overstayed its welcome with an entire subplot that's only just getting started.

Which is a damn pity, because The Love Witch is, for the most part, the kind of movie that I would ordinarily adore like none other. What we've got here is an impeccable retro production, a virtually flawless attempt at making a 2010s feminist parody of a 1970s feminist witchsploitation film by director Anna Biller. And when I call her "director Anna Biller", it's because "director-writer-producer-production designer-costume designer-editor-composer Anna Biller" would be irritating as hell to keep typing out over and over again, but that is what she has done for this movie, which by all sane measures we must therefore call an especially laborious labor of love (it's been nine years since she went similarly all-in on Viva, her last film, presumably because that's about how long it takes to be responsible for every aspect of a feature-length film's visuals other than the cinematography). The totality of the artistic vision is strikingly evident from watching the movie, with its faultless artistic unity in creating what is quite possibly the most accurate re-creation of a defunct style that I've ever seen in a movie. It looks perfectly dated; it even gets the right amount of diffusion in the cinematography (by M. David Mullen, whom I'll assume to be Anna Biller wearing a fake mustache until I have irrefutable evidence to the contrary) to evoke that particular brand of slightly shitty film stock from the late '60s and early '70s. It is not, mind you, set in the '70s: almost every shot with cars (other than the protagonist's) proves that. And this seems incredibly significant and important to me, though I can't quite articulate way.

Anyway, the film: there's a white witch named Elaine (Samantha Robinson), whose husband has just died - it is strongly implied that she killed him, but to save my life, I'm can't recall if it's made explicit. To get her life re-started, she's just moved from San Francisco, where some former members of her coven have planted roots. Here, she throws herself with strangely single-minded intensity into the job of finding herself a new man to love, which seems like an odd obsession for a woman whose words so regularly center on the themes of women's inherent power and the feminine order of the natural world. This "seems" is the driving engine of the whole movie, which proves in due course to be things, both based in feminist film theory: one is a depiction of the celebration of the female body as a biological entity and as a creative source (and I take great care to call it a "depiction of the celebration" because, as with much of the film, it's not entirely clear whether Biller means for us to laugh at her characters or agree with them). Second is a commentary on the gendered aspects of sexual and romantic desire, presenting Elaine as partially an avenging figure, turning men's surface-level desire for sex with beautiful women against them - for naturally, being as this is witchsploitation, Elaine uses magic to kill men, typically after she has gotten naked in front of them - and partially a beatific sociopath, willing to betray women friends and manipulate men just for the fun of being able to punish them, and the film never quite gives up on teasing us as to whether it wants us to admire the character or find her unhinged.

It's clear that Biller wants us to find ideological overtones threaded throughout her movie - and to be fair, this was very much true of plenty of the same body of exploitation-but-also-sociological-commentary films that The Love Witch is borrowing its aesthetic from - but I think it's important not to make so much of it that we lose sight of something else. Namely, that this is an utter joy of a movie to watch. It's the very best kind of mimic, one that knows its model inside and out and captures its every nuance, before turning it into something subtly but importantly different. I have called it both a parody and a pastiche so far, and I truly don't know which of those categories is a better home for it: it's quite clear that Biller loves the movies, or at least the film aesthetic, that she's copying, or else she never could have re-created it so minutely. At the same time, we're obviously meant to find the outmoded worldview the film transplants from the late '60s ridiculous, as well as Elaine's dewy-eyed adulation of that worldview.

Either way, the film is enormously pleasurable as kitschy horror played for dry comedy, and as an experience of pure spectacle: the colors alone would be enough to make this one of the year's most enjoyable movies to look at, so stimulating but at the same time restful are all those soft-focus, oversaturated reds, pinks, teals and purples. I can't tell if Robinson is giving a great performance or not, but she is certainly giving the right performance, playing the exact right of brittle earnestness to make Elaine "pop" as a campy figure, one who can maybe be loved ironically more readily than unironically, but is certainly worthy of some kind of love.

All this, anyway, is true for about half of the movie. It almost doesn't matter which half: the aimless opening hour, where Elaine attempts to find love; the slightly less aimless back hour, where she falls in love with Griff (Gian Keyes) the no-nonsense alpha male cop who's investigating the killings that Elaine has perpetrated; or some mixture of bits from across the movie (but none of those bits would include the airless, endless medieval picnic sequence right around the three-quarter mark). All parts of The Love Witch are about equally enjoyable, but that's kind of the problem: once you "get" the movie, it doesn't really do anything to accelerate that until very near the end (and the end is awfully good, for what it's worth). I suspect that if The Love Witch was 80 minutes long, I'd still be grousing that it felt padded; at two hours, it's goddamn exhausting. Too much of a good thing is still too much, and there's nothing that a much shorter movie wouldn't have achieved, while perhaps even making more of an impact because it doesn't have so much dead weight. The movie's great parts couldn't exist without Biller falling completely in love with her material; the unfortunate side effect is that she has apparently become unwilling to make any seriously hard choices about paring that material down.