You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: Kirsten Dunst in ‘Woodshock’

Starring Kirsten Dunst as a cannabis dealer mired in grief and delusion, Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy's directorial debut is a visually arresting mari-yawner.

Kate Mulleavy, Laura Mulleavy
Kirsten Dunst, Pilou Asbaek, Joe Cole, Jack Kilmer, Stephan DuVall, Susan Traylor.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4677924/

It’s surprising, on reflection, that more fashion designers don’t go into filmmaking. Their art hinges on unfettered visual imagination with an activating element of human performance, savvy to the demands of a paying audience. Tom Ford proved the logic of the transition; in their first feature, the headily ornate but narratively anemic “Woodshock,” Kate and Laura Mulleavy don’t come to the medium quite as fully formed.

The good news is that the celebrated sisterly duo behind the Rodarte couture label bring much of their singularly striking, busy aesthetic to the screen: With its layer upon layer of filters, lens flares, neon imprints, overlaid floral motifs and crystalline refractions, the film is as extravagantly embellished as one of their most gawp-worthy gowns. Yet this sparse meditation on a legal cannabis dealer (Kirsten Dunst) sent into concentric spirals of trauma and hallucination by her mother’s death could desperately use some extra detailing at the level of character and psychology. As it is, the vicarious intrigue of watching someone else’s increasingly distant drug trips burns out pretty fast, leaving viewers with an abstruse fusion of stoner cinema and slow cinema that plays to no obvious audience. A24 can play up “Woodshock’s” attractive, cultish trappings ahead of its Stateside opening on September 22, but it’d be more seductive as a nightclub background projection than as a theatrical experience.

“Woodshock” wastes no time getting to the despairing heart of its drama: Near the beginning, a distraught Theresa (Dunst) prepares a lethal cocktail of marijuana and another, indeterminate substance at the behest of her terminally ill mother (Susan Traylor), the preparation of the final spliff depicted in extreme, near-reverent closeup. The invalid peacefully slips away; Theresa, meanwhile, is left in a tormented state of mourning from which she can’t seem to extricate herself, with or without psychotropic assistance. That’s as clear and emotionally acute as the narrative gets before “Woodshock” disappears into the hazy no man’s land between reality and the disorienting hall of mirrors that is its heroine’s addled psyche.

The title refers to the mental state of extreme fear and panic associated with losing one’s bearings in the wilderness, here also given a literal application: Theresa lives with her ineffectual boyfriend Nick (British rising star Joe Cole, given precious little to work with) on the fringes of a redwood forest in California’s Humboldt County. How much time she spends wandering its paths or simply dreaming herself along them is anyone’s guess. (At one point, when a fevered Theresa tosses an entire box of eggs into the kitchen sink, it’s hard not to wonder if the Mulleavys are deliberately poking fun at the “this is your brain on drugs” cautionary campaigns of the 1980s.) When not brooding, tripping or both, Theresa works alongside her burly, romantically suggestive friend Keith (the reliable Pilou Asbaek, also under-exploited) at a kind of artisan marijuana boutique for the medically eligible. The question of when the film is set, given this high-end, above-board business and the absence of any contemporary technology from the screen, is kept deliberately elusive.

Production designer and co-producer K.K. Barrett situates the film in a similarly dreamy, inexact milieu to his work with Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola — the decorative flourishes of kitsch in Theresa’s boxy, claustrophobic house could be period detailing or retro hipster affectations — while the Mulleavys’ own costumes (in collaboration with Christie Wittenborn) shift in formality, silhouette and sheer shimmer to match Theresa’s deteriorating grasp on reality. The further she slips into oblivion, the closer she gets to exquisitely sequined Rodarte nirvana. Highly inventive Finnish cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg (an ASC winner for his work on “Concrete Night”) deftly evokes colliding shards of reality, altered reality and outright delusion through glimmering games of watercolor-soft focus and double exposure.

With the film’s human element so glassy and its storytelling so thin, however, all this elegant formal trickery soon turns more aggravating than intoxicating — by its extremely splintered, impressionistic finale, the film skates perilously close to misery chic. Dunst has form in playing irretrievably inverted depression to riveting effect, but the Mulleavys’ script hardly gives her as complex an emotional or intellectual palette to work with as, say, Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia.” Theresa’s relationships with Nick and Keith are likewise marked by watery conflict and attraction. By the time a lucid strain of narrative and feeling does emerge from “Woodshock’s” stunned tangle of whispery impulses and reflections, it lends proceedings a discomfiting whiff of anti-euthanasia sentiment, with the film in no steady state to get political on us.

Film Review: Kirsten Dunst in 'Woodshock'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Cinema nel Giardino), Sept. 3, 2017. Running time: 101 MIN. MPAA Rating: R.

Production: An A24 release of a COTA Films production in association with Waypoint Entertainment. Producers: Ben LeClair, K.K. Barrett, Ken Kao, Michael Costigan. Executive producer: Kirsten Dunst.

Crew: Directors, screenplay: Kate Mulleavy, Laura Mulleavy. Camera (color, widescreen, 35mm): Peter Finckenberg. Editor: Julia Bloch, Dino Jonsäter. Music: Peter Raeburn.

With: Kirsten Dunst, Pilou Asbaek, Joe Cole, Jack Kilmer, Stephan DuVall, Susan Traylor.

More Film

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while Gina Rodriguez would be voicing Velma Dinkley. The mystery-solving teens and their talking [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck's Addiction Drama Set for Awards-Season Release

    Warner Bros. has given Ben Affleck’s untitled addiction drama an awards-season-friendly release date of Oct. 18. The film, which has been known previously as “The Has-Been” and “Torrance,” is directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Affleck as a former basketball player struggling with addiction, which has led to him losing his wife. As part of [...]

  • Jordan Peele'Us' film premiere, Arrivals, New

    Jordan Peele Explains the Meaning Behind the 'Us' Michael Jackson Reference

    Jordan Peele’s horror movie “Us” is filled with pop culture references, from “Jaws” to “Goonies.” But the most divisive might be right in his opening sequence. Warning, minor spoilers ahead. The movie about a couple (played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) and their children being hunted and brutalized by a mysterious family that looks just [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content