Movie Review – Woodshock

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Woodshock (2017)
Written & Directed by Laura & Kate Mulleavy


Theresa is a troubled woman who is grieving the recent death of her terminally ill mother. She spends most of her days wandering around the small home in Northern California she has inherited. Her lumberjack boyfriend Nick pressures her to sell the place so they can leave and start over somewhere else, but Theresa just can’t. When she finally returns to her job working in a marijuana dispensary alongside her friend Keith, he notices she is withdrawn and unwillingly to start living again. A series of tragic circumstances lead to another death in Theresa’s life which finally pushes her to a breaking point. Through a hallucinatory exodus, she will come to a final realization about her life and relationships.

I had high hopes for Woodshock and felt devastated by how bad it truly was. This was the directorial debut of the Mulleavy sisters, fashion designers for the label Rodarte. I wouldn’t argue that this movie was soaked in style. The look of the locations, the clothes, and the lighting are very cohesive and work to establish a very subtly heightened world. The problems occur when you try to examine the characters, the plot, and the themes. There’s just nothing of substance there, and that is deeply frustrating when the potential for something remarkable feels like it is hovering just above the surface.

Assisted suicide is a crucial component of the film and is a topic worthy of examination in cinema. Theresa feel compelled to help her mother pass on in the most humane way possible, yet still grapples with feelings of guilt alongside the natural depression when losing such a vital person in your life. I loved that so much of the film is told without dialogue, allowing Kirsten Dunst to stretch her acting chops and use a subtle touch to convey a depth of emotions. The decision to pace the film in a foggy haze fits right along with those lingering, seemingly unending hours and days when a person is stuck inside their depression. The slow pace of the film lulled me into a sense that it was building towards something profound. And then the third act hits…

I saw the movie listed as a “psychological thriller drama” and thought, “That is an odd combination of genres. The wording feels off.” There is no thriller in Woodshock, but there is a clumsy attempt in the final scenes of the movie to suddenly ratchet up stakes in an unbelievable way. A murder occurs, and I was reasonably convinced that this was part of the drug trip that makes up much of the film’s finale. The way police and their flashlights are used in the very final scene made me realize that the picture is saying the murder was real, not a hallucination. If that’s true, then the movie breaks apart even more because nothing is leading up to that moment that would justify that murder.

Ultimately our main character has no arc. There’s not even a semi-interesting examination of Theresa, a slice of life that would provide some insight into her pain. I suspect that the Mulleavys may have focused more on the look and feel of the movie than actually giving us something that spoke to a more significant theme. Strongly stylized cinema is a niche I love. Panos Cosmatos’ recent Mandy and previous Beyond the Black Rainbow are oozing with visual indulgence. However, both of those movies have a core mission statement underlying their strong visuals. Even designer Tom Ford has made the foray into film delivering the stunning Nocturnal Animals. So fashion can be a gateway into cinema. However, the Mulleavys first experiment in the medium is a large failure.

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