Woodshock  (2017)    A24/Drama-Thriller    RT: 100 minutes    Rated R (drug use, language, a scene of violence)    Director: Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy    Screenplay: Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy    Music: Peter Raeburn    Cinematography: Peter Flickenberg    Release date: September 29, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Joe Cole, Pilou Asbaek, Steph DuVall, Jack Kilmer, Susan Traylor.



 I knew I was in trouble when the theater manager laughed when I bought my ticket for Woodshock. He told me not to be surprised if I was the only one in there (I wasn’t, two other people showed up during the previews). He went on to explain that it wasn’t exactly drawing crowds and those who saw it came out absolutely perplexed as to what Woodshock was about. I said, “Oh crap, it’s one of those movies?” He nodded sympathetically and said he’d be interested in hearing my thoughts on it afterwards. Hey, Movie Guy loves a challenge!

 woodshock-2017I sat through most of Woodshock in a state of confusion. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what it was about. Then, in the movie’s last half-hour, it hit me. I’m going to break protocol and share it with you. I don’t usually do this; I withheld my interpretation of last month’s Mother because I thought there was a chance people might go see it. I feel quite the opposite about Woodshock. It’s already playing to empty theaters and I doubt anything will change that. Are you ready? Here it is. It’s about a young woman who goes into an emotional and psychological tailspin brought on by grief, depression and guilt over helping her terminally ill mother to kill herself. If this sounds good to you, let me assure you that it sounds better than it actually is. Woodshock is a pretentious bore. Sitting through it isn’t a test of one’s endurance, it’s masochism.

 Kirsten Dunst (The Virgin Suicides) plays Theresa, a young woman who works in a store that sells medicinal marijuana. At the beginning of the movie, she poisons buds with a few drops of some unknown liquid from a small, brown vial. She then rolls a joint, takes it to her dying mother and puts it to her lips. Mom dies and Theresa’s life is never the same. Her boyfriend Nick (Cole, Green Room) moves in but you’d never know they were a couple. He’s cold and impatient; she’s losing her grip on reality. Things get worse when Theresa tries to perform another mercy killing with poisoned pot. She fails and loses her job. It’s all downhill from there.

 Theresa didn’t act entirely on her own. The shop owner Keith (Asbaek, A Hijacking) put her up to it. He has a side business as a facilitator of assisted suicide. He’s the one who gave Theresa the liquid. He’s so haunted by guilt that he spends his nights at a local bar getting drunk and pouring coins into the jukebox. This guy is a real downer and a creep. The only other character of note in Woodshock is this guy Johnny (Kilmer, Palo Alto) who has a crush on Theresa. He’s always asking her to meet up with him even though she already has a boyfriend.

 Woodshock is the directorial debut of Kate and Laura Mulleavy. The sisters are fashion designers by trade. It’s not unheard of for people in the fashion industry to make the jump to movies. How many models have become actors? Tom Ford, the director of A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, started out as a designer. Whereas he successfully made the transition, the sisters Mulleavy do not. Woodshock is a dull, convoluted mess that moves at a turtle’s pace. It lacks story and character development. Characters and their relationships are barely fleshed out. The screenplay (also by the Mulleavys) is half-assed. It’s implied that Theresa and Keith have more than a working relationship but it’s never actually explained. In fact, not a whole hell of a lot is explained in Woodshock. What’s up with all the stuff about trees? The boyfriend works at a lumber mill. There are many shots of trees being cut down and Theresa resting on stumps. What is the significance? Beats the hell out of me. It moves from one scene to the next without any sense of cohesion. Then the makers pile on the visual tricks- e.g. double exposures, lens flares and stream-of-consciousness editing- to signify its main character’s deteriorating state of mind. Certainly Theresa’s constant pot smoking factors into her perception of reality.

 Dunst sleepwalks through Woodshock in a daze which I suppose makes sense given her marijuana usage and depressed state. She wanders around the house and a nearby redwood forest in a funk. Usually, she’s barefoot and dressed in nothing but a nightgown. I’ve always felt that Dunst has an ethereal quality to her. It’s served her well in many roles and it’s the lone saving grace of Woodshock, an otherwise bad movie. And by that, I do mean bad. It’s not even laughably bad, it’s just bad. It’s poorly written and directed. What the actors do can’t even be called acting; they basically show up and read their lines. One gets the impression they don’t understand what the makers are going for either. The big question surrounding Woodshock isn’t “Do you understand it?”; it’s “Who cares?” 

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