Directors: Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Joe Cole, Pilou Asbæk, Steph DuVall, Jack Kilmer, Susan Traylor
MPAA Rating: (for drug use, language and a scene of violence)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 9/22/17 (limited); 9/29/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 28, 2017
In telling the story of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, writers/directors Kate and Laura Mulleavy have made a movie that's more hollow than it is beautiful, terrifying, or engaging. The primary concerns of Woodshock are tactile, with the protagonist often touching various things—from the trees in the woods outside her home to curtains and wallpaper, all decorated with leafy or flowery stitch and paint work.
There is no shortage of shots of the main character reaching out to touch something, tracing patterns on cloth and paper, or, in one instance, staring at the refracted light from a vase that she twists in her hands. Save for a sequence in which she hammers in posts for a fence, that's about the extent of her activity until the movie's hastened climax. Since she's in a drug-induced haze for most of the movie, it's never clear if she actually does any of the fence-building in the first place.
On a more significant level, the various shots of the character feeling assorted items appear founded on the contrast of the real and the artificial—a façade or replica of the natural world. The cause of the woman's distress—the death of her mother—itself was caused by something natural combined with something synthetic: marijuana laced with poison. In the movie's opening scenes, the mother prefers the idea of a quick, painless death to a prolonged one filled with suffering, so the daughter helps.
Because Theresa (Kirsten Dunst) works at a dispensary for medical cannabis, half of the concoction was easy enough to obtain. Since the mother (played by Susan Traylor) is already dying, the decision was agreed to out of compassion. It's dealing with the fact that the mother is dead and that, in a very real way and no matter the reasons, Theresa killed her own mother that keeps the daughter awake at night, has her lying silently on the floor in the mother's bedroom, and otherwise prevents her from doing much of anything.
It's a one-note study of guilt, with some finely composed and sometimes hallucinatory imagery serving as the fragile backbone of a story that has little to say about the central character and her predicament. After assisting her mother's death, Theresa becomes distant from the rest of the world, including her husband Nick (Joe Cole), who recently received a promotion at the local lumber mill that keeps him away from the house for long hours, and her job at the cannabis dispensary. Her boss Keith (Pilou Asbæk) is a bit of a scumbag, who doesn't hide his attraction and desire for Theresa.
This, essentially, is the plot, with the addition of Ed (Steph DuVall), an older man who wants the same treatment that Theresa's mother received, and Johnny (Jack Kilmer), a younger guy who strikes up a conversation with Theresa at his birthday party and to whom Theresa seems mildly attracted. There's a mix-up—either accidental or intentional, although the movie is never entirely clear on it (From the dialogue, we assume the latter)—with Theresa's poisoned stash, and the wrong person ends up with the deadly blend.
There's a lot left unsaid here, especially when it comes to this part of the story. The Mulleavys, sisterly fashion designers making their filmmaking debut, leave it up to us to fill in the blanks—that Theresa may have murdered someone as a punishment for her own feelings, that she has an almost mystical connection to nature that makes her angry at her husband for his job and complicates her guilt (since she interfered with the natural order), that she is or has transformed herself into an angel of death. The movie is never particularly clear on much of anything, except that Theresa wants to reprimand herself—by smoking her lethal blend in smaller doses—and others for that first decision we see her make.
There's not enough to these characters to make much sense of Theresa's aimless avenging of/lashing out at real or perceived slights against her, her emotions, or her sense of the natural order. Dunst's performance is as fine as it can be, considering the limitations of the screenplay, which basically has the character wandering her house in her underwear and assorted nightgowns while gradually and generically going mad under the influence of guilt, as well as that toxic pot. Woodshock itself feels artificial, trying to uncover something real beneath its superficial qualities but too obsessed with surface to even start looking.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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