This year, the founders of esteemed fashion brand Rodarte and also sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy decided to also test their strength at filmmaking with Woodshock. They wanted to channel what it was like growing up in Northern California, surrounded by the redwoods and the constant juxtaposition of the ancient trees with the contemporary, booming industries. The camera gazes upon the infinite height of the trees with the silence and solace conveyed through main character Theresa (Kirsten Dunst) wandering around in graceful white slips. Woodshock follows Kirsten Dunst in one of her most captivating roles yet, as she plays a grief-stricken, remorseful daughter trying to navigate through her Northern California world.
Woodshock begins in media res. Theresa can’t stand to see her mother suffering from an undisclosed illness, so she rolls up a medically legal but poisoned spliff so that her mother can go out in peace. It’s peaceful, sure, but one can’t help but feel liable in her position, and the “death weed” haunts Theresa for weeks, months. The film follows Theresa’s mental decline at a sluggish pace, which matches the Northern California, pot vibe but is otherwise a bit testy. Theresa begins making deadly mistakes at work, sitting at home and eating from strictly the middle of a cake, until she eventually rolls up 6 spliffs with a little bit of the poison in each so that she may feel like she has some control of her breakdown.
One by one, spliff by spliff, the Mulleavys experiment with accumulating synesthesia via dissolves, blue and red hues, and dream sequences. It’s both addicting to watch and tedious at times, especially when it tries to constantly hit home the linkage between cutting down trees and ending a life. It’s especially tedious when the film tries to develop other characters, all quite poorly. There’s Theresa’s coworker who I couldn’t figure out if she had romantic feelings for, an old man who gives her drawings, and even her boyfriend who only shows up at night to tell her she has problems. With less narrative and character intrusion and more experimental filmmaking, Woodshock could have been a stunner.
Nevertheless, I appreciated the devotion these sisters have for their hometown and for nature itself. Rodarte pieces are known for their delicacy and light floral embellishments, so the Mulleavys being able to express their passion through other art modes is inspiring. The Mulleavys have indicated interest in more filmmaking, let’s hope their passion can be proclaimed with more focus.