As expected from a feature-length directorial debut by a pair of siblings with a fashion and design background, ‘Woodshock’ looks absolutely stunning. Kate and Laura Mulleavy have created a series of evocative and gorgeous images that flicker across screens. Unfortunately, there’s not much to it beyond the pretty surface.
‘Woodshock’ is a rather pretentious, confusing, and ultimately unsatisfying film that waddles in depression for the sake of creepy/pretty pictures. Still, those pictures are great if you can be bothered to stick with them for 100 minutes.
Kirsten Dunst stars in her current stock role as a depressed woman, this one named Theresa. She has a reasonable enough reason to be in that state. By lacing a little medical marijuana, she recently helped her mother commit suicide. That’s never an uplifting event. From there, Theresa finds herself in an endless funk. She wanders around in a nightgown and makes a variety of sad faces. Some people try to break her out of it, including her boyfriend (Joe Cole) who now lives with her in her mother’s beautiful yet decaying 1970s era mansion. (Seriously, they should have moved, even if mommy left them her home.)
She also has a flirty friend (Pilou Asbæk) constantly checking in on her when they aren’t working together in the medical marijuana dispensary that he owns. He’s a bummer to be around, though. Everyone is. Everyone drifts through the screen in a daze and there seems to be a haze of smoke or double exposure layering every image. Nothing much happens though until an oddly violent eruption near the end that I shan’t spoil, but certainly will mention is as confusing as everything else.
Perhaps it’s all a commentary on the effects of a society placated by drugs. It’s hard to say. The Mulleavys fill their film with loaded imagery designed to be read into heavily. On a certain level, it’s a collection of old-fashioned art house clichés: double exposures causing faces to melt together, bizarre editing transitions, “meaningful” staring off camera from the entire cast, surreal montages, lingering shots of props and locations that seem to hint at more. It’s all stuff you’ve seen before that the Mulleavys know too well. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine that the movie will offer much meaning to anyone other than the filmmakers. ‘Woodshock’ is very much an act of cinematic navel gazing with two talented women using all their favorite tricks to make a pretty vessel signifying nothing.
That said, the movie does look great. Kate and Laura Mulleavy have meticulously recreated a certain brand of 1970s art house freakout right down to designing the wardrobe themselves. Images are filled with details and mood hangs heavily over every scene. Frames can feel startlingly bare or filled with almost psychedelically detailed designs. It’s very pretty, and Kirsten Dunst does a perfectly fine job of looking pained and unhappy within those carefully crafted frames. The Mulleavys clearly love film and are tremendously talented at crafting images and mood. They probably shouldn’t be writing their own scripts, though.
There are some wondrous images and intriguing ideas throughout ‘Woodshock’, probably enough for a fantastic photo shoot or short film, just not enough for a feature-length narrative. Sitting through the film can feel like a chore, even if it’s easy to admire so much of what’s projected up on the big screen. The Mulleavys show promise as filmmakers. They know how to craft images that make an impact and weave a mood that slithers under the skin. They just don’t seem to have much of a grasp on how to tell a story with tension or drama worth investing in. However, they have delivered something that could be edited down to a damn fine show reel to get them a gig directing someone else’s script that they connect with. If that happens, it could be worth getting excited about something the Mulleavys direct. Until then, it’s probably best to just watch the trailer for ‘Woodshock’ and imagine a better movie that could have been.