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Woodshock Review

Woodshock is a 2017 thriller about a haunted young woman who spirals in the wake of profound loss, torn between her fractured emotional state and the reality-altering effects of a potent cannabinoid drug.

It’s a little hard to get your footing along the meandering pathways Kate and Laura Mulleavy lay down in their moody directorial debut. At times, it’s an introspective work, with deliberate, long, silent takes so unrushed as to be still and at others, almost painfully unapproachable with hazy visuals and cryptic allegorical meditations. It’s decidedly not mainstream, and works hard, it seems, to be somewhat existential, leaving it a strange effort that for most will be difficult to let sink in.

Far into the depths of Northern California, Theresa (Kirsten Dunst) is spiralling amid a terrible loss. Her mother (Susan Traylor) has succumbed to a long suffering illness, helped to her end with a marijuana joint laced with a special oil that Theresa rolls, holding her in tears as she slips away. It has devastating effect. She works at a legal marijuana dispensary, but is so overwhelmed with sorrow, she can’t find motivation to keep up even the remotest appearance of moving on, even with the encouragement of her boss Keith (Pilou Asbaek). She is so burdened by this emptiness, she can no longer connect with her husband Nick (Joe Cole), a local logger who himself is fading from their relationship, unable to cope. Looking to separate herself further, Theresa soaks her private supply with the oil that Keith and she use as a sideline business in an attempt to experience something beyond reality, but there are consequences great and terrible.

If you’re not familiar with the Mulleavy’s, they are well known and award-winning fashion designers behind the Rodarte brand. For film fans, they were the costume designers for Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan and now they are stepping behind the camera with what amounts to be a very personal story, even as it remains mostly embedded in fog (both figurative and literal). It is purposefully slow, centered on Theresa’s agonizing emotional breakdown, her attachment to her lost mother compounded by the isolation and the home she lives in, which is a prison of memories, decorated with all her mother’s belongings. It journeys into metaphorical dreamscapes with Theresa finding solace in the hazy forests, itself in a state of slow spiralling death as the loggers chop the trees down. We witness continual dark imagery of the daughter in perpetual despair, elevated by the drug that allows her some momentary escape. However, these states of disconnect lead her to make a deadly mistake.

All of this makes for a troubling film experience. Lethargic and dour, it has nearly no momentum, more content to exist is a strange dreamlike blur where people talk as if their voices hurt, soft and peppered by long pauses. Credit goes to Dunst for carrying the film, her presence alone maybe enough to keep some interested, it harkening a bit back to Lars von Trier‘s Meloncholia (2011). She spends a great deal of the film in states of non-nude undress and appears to be once more fearless in delivering to us a confounding, complex character. It’s just lost in murkiness.

There is much that fans of films like this will surely find cause to celebrate, with long stretches of dialogue-free moments and the ever-present feeling that it’s all something we’re supposed to ‘get’, as if we should be paying more attention. In some ways, the film succeeds in crafting a harrowing tale out of Theresa’s downfall, even as it overindulges in extended bouts of seemingly nonsensical imagery. It’s a challenge to watch, which is not quite the compliment it sounds like. The problem is its inability to make us care. We have no reason to become involved with Theresa and thus stand by in blank observation, unsure what to feel, wondering not so much where it’s going or even why, but whether it even matters.

Woodshock Review

Movie description: Woodshock is a 2017 thriller about a haunted young woman who spirals in the wake of profound loss, torn between her fractured emotional state and the reality-altering effects of a potent cannabinoid drug.

Director(s): Kate Mulleavy, Laura Mulleavy

Actor(s): Kirsten Dunst, Joe Cole, Pilou Asbæk

Genre: Drama

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