By Elias Savada.
The answer to whether smoking kills lies beneath the surface of this abstract but ultimately empty-plotted first feature from sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, better known for having created the designer label Rodarte. The film, apparently inspired by the scenic American backdrop that infuses their fashion line, suffers through a fragile journey embedded with its central character’s textured madness. I was bored.
Folks who hope that the film might succeed as fellow designer Tom Ford’s A Single Man, his initial foray into film directing, did, will find Woodshock wandering on the opposite side of the road where lightning would strike again. Perhaps the Mulleavys, whose previous experience in the movie business – not counting their many dresses which are worn at various red carpet events – was as the creators of the fabulous ballet costumes used in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, should have based their film on something more solid than a disoriented examination of their “personal perspective” about the destruction of old growth forest.
Kirsten Dunst, appearing through most of the film in negligee or undergarments (I assume created by you-know-whom), walks barefoot, often slowly and generally aimlessly, through a large swatch of this art house fare, picking flowers here, reflecting in windows and mirrors there, her face sometimes tinged with streaks of blood. Her increasingly icy character, Theresa, moves about in a dreary dreamscape infused with drugs and paranoia. (Perhaps she just fled The Walking Dead set?) Yes, she’s lost all but a few of her remaining bearings. Their absence makes is all but impossible to figure out her motives and intentions as her mind takes various detours. After soaking some of her marijuana stash with drops from a small vial of death, she evenly distributes these buds of enlightenment into a set of five carefully rolled joints. When the effects of her special refreshments go awry, things go sharply downhill, much to the woe of her often out-of-the-picture husband Nick (Joe Cole), a lumberjack who lamely laments her depressing obsession with tree-hugging and pounding wooden stacks into their yard.
There’s a small group of hangers-on that circle about Theresa, including Johnny (Jack Kilmer) and her aloof boss Keith (Pilou Asbaek), who grows medicinal marijuana. The assisted suicide of her mom (Susan Traylor) early in the film pushes her trajectory through the rest of the movie. That funk seems more like a mood poem because of the artsy fartsy cinematography courtesy of Peter Flinckenberg, which provides a hallucinogenic sparkle to the California Redwoods forest in which these folks live. There are other characters who fade in and out, but a half hour in I was still trying to sort out the various relationships. And locate what would pass for a plot.
So, ask yourself, do you want to watch a semi-clad Dunst roam about in a daze for 101 minutes? Hopefully you won’t end up as disillusioned and sad-eyed as her character, who definitely showcases certain traits more associated with a non-certified Dr. Kervorkian.
The hand-held camerawork, often in close up, is too edgy for this indie journey into angst and other nonsense. The film darkens as it plods along, with snippets of artifacts (butterflies, moths, old clock-radios, flowered wallpaper) accompanied by a deep bass heartbeat.
When the more psychedelic footage arrives (double exposures, levitation, more butterflies, wild landscapes, soft focus pulls and pushes, jumpy editing, even doppelgangers), you begin to see the toll on Theresa, mentally, emotionally, and physically. As for the audience who suffer along as Woodshock proudly wears its Mumblecore heritage on its sleeve, the remaining viewers in the audience might feel like the tree the directors often show being chain-sawed. Does that make the film cutting edge?
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He served as an executive producer on the 2015 horror film German Angst, Penny Lane’s award-winning documentary Nuts!, and the forthcoming supernatural thriller Ayla. He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).