Woodshock is a textured but shallow entry into filmmaking by fashion superstars Kate and Laura Mulleavy (who famously designed the costumes to Aronofsky’s Black Swan).
Kirsten Dunst stars as Theresa, a young woman whose mother’s death leaves her despondent. She floats through a series of encounters with friends and family in a dream-like state, aided by a potent strain of cannabis.
Dunst has had a string of strong roles in quiet films as tortured women this year. There isn’t much to Theresa, but Dunst’s performance captures enough inner turmoil to make her relatable at bare minimum.
There’s a minimalism at play in Woodshock that brings to mind several other recent grief-driven, atmosphere-laden movies. This is the sort of movie where every character has a single, undistinguished name — Nick, Keith, Ed, Johnny, “Theresa’s Mother.” It says to the audience that these are not real people, these are tools.
But while, say, A Ghost Story tried too hard to explain the themes underpinning its stylistic experimentation (its characters’ names: M and C), Woodshock doesn’t really try at all. Loss is tremendous and difficult, and here its nebulousness is used as pretense rather than point.
The Mulleavys have a camera, editing software and an eye for images, but the movie is simply otherwise unconcerned with any other element of storytelling. As if to underscore their concern, the two frequently use the forest being cut down as a blunt metaphor for the loss of Theresa’s mother. Too busy creating imagery, can’t slow down to feel it.
That sounds frustrating but it’s not — not entirely. The movie is soft, slow, sparse, like a story told by someone so high they’re drifting into sleep. There are fleeting moments that feel soothing, in the way the redwood forests just north of Santa Cruz, California (where the movie is set and inspired by) happen to be. The forests have such high canopies that the ecosystem is wonky; it’s like no forest you’ve ever visited. The ground isn’t as lush as a regular forest, which means fewer animals and less … noise. Woodshock at its best captures that sense of natural quiet.
And why shouldn’t it? The term “woodshock” is one used to describe the sense of disorientation someone feels when lost in the woods. At the very least, the Mulleavys commit to crafting a movie where the audience feels lost. Most audiences will. Not always for the better.
Woodshock is a unique experience, one worth seeking out. It opens in Indianapolis on October 6. Given how esoteric it is, there’s little likelihood it will stick around longer than a week or two.