×
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.

Director:
Kate Mulleavy, Laura Mulleavy
With:
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

  • Nadine Labaki

    Cannes: Nadine Labaki to Head Un Certain Regard Jury

    Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki has been named president of the jury for Un Certain Regard in Cannes. The Festival said Labaki had been chosen after “moving hearts and minds at the last Festival de Cannes with her Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated ‘Capernaum,’ which won the Jury Prize.” More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns [...]

  • Osmosis

    Netflix Unveils Four More French Originals, 'Gims,' 'Anelka,' 'Move,' 'Of Earth And Blood'

    As it prepares to open a fully-staffed office in France and ramp up its investment in local originals, Netflix has unveiled three new documentaries, “Move” (working title), “Gims” (working title), and “Anelka” (working title), and the feature film “Of Earth And Blood” while at Series Mania in Lille. Announced during a panel with Netflix’s commissioning [...]

  • Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home

    Film News Roundup: Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'

    In today’s film news roundup, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is in the works, the NFL has made a documentary about female team owners and D Street Pictures has signed Kenny Gage and Devon Downs to direct the dance feature “Move.” HOLIDAY PROJECT More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan arrives at the

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Warner Bros.' 'Methuselah' Movie

    Michael B. Jordan will produce and star in a “Methuselah” movie for Warner Bros., based on the Biblical story of a man who lived to be 969 years old. Jordan will produce through his Outlier Society production company along with Heyday’s David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford. More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, [...]

  • Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping

    Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping Italy's Top Film Awards

    Piera Detassis recently became the first woman to head the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars. Since then she’s been busy overhauling the inner workings of the prizes that will be awarded on Wednesday. Detassis, also the editor of Italian film publication Ciak, spoke exclusively to Variety about the challenges she’s faced [...]

  • Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards

    Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards Race

    With 15 nominations Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” leads the pack of contenders for Italy’s David di Donatello Awards in a watershed year for the country’s top film nods that sees highbrow auteur titles reaping most of the David love just as local box-office grosses hit an all-time low. Garrone’s gritty revenge drama is followed closely with [...]

  • steven spielberg Apple TV Plus

    Steven Spielberg's Apple Appearance Riles Up Social Media: 'Big Old Mixed Message'

    Many Hollywood heavyweights flocked to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters to help reveal the tech giant’s revamped steaming service Apple TV+ on Monday — but one such legend was so polarizing he became a national trending topic on Twitter for simply showing his face. Steven Spielberg was the first to appear in a dramatic short film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content