* (out of 5)
September 29, 2017
Kirsten Dunst as THERESA
Joe Cole as NICK
Pilou Asbæk as KEITH
Steph DuVall as ED
Directed by: Kate Mulleavy, Laura Mulleavy
BY KEVIN CARR
First-time filmmaking is a tricky gig. On one hand, there’s pressure to define yourself and your brand the moment you’re out of the gate. In order to do that, you must differentiate your product from everything that’s already out there. On the other hand, there’s pressure to make a commercial movie that will gain at least a small following and allow you to make more films.
It’s a balancing act that many first-time filmmakers fail at. When it comes to “Woodshock,” first-time directors Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy stumble out of the gate.
The story is quite simple, yet murky in its presentation. Kirsten Dunst plays a woman struggling with her own grief of her mother she helped to die after illness. This sends her into a dream state, straining current relationships and her job. As she finds herself abusing hallucinogenic cannabis more and more, danger leeches into her everyday life.
In some ways, I respect the hell out of what Mulleavy and Mulleavy are doing. They buck conventions like a traditional linear plot, developed characters and a coherent narrative. This is the kind of filmmaking you see from directors like Terrence Malick. However, it’s also the kind of filmmaking you see from unrefined amateurs trying to emulate what they believe is a true art film.
To this end, I cannot discern whether the directors’ approach is derivative and imitative, or if it’s visionary and profound. I may be the luddite in the room for this reason, but the bottom line is that it ended with a boring chore of a movie to watch.
In many instances, the cinematography is quite beautiful, featuring long, drawn-out images of nature as Dunst’s character retreats into the woods for comfort. Other times, there are deliberate staging decisions that starkly represent her conflicted nature, like a sheer curtain cutting sharply through the frame.
However, I can’t get past the lack of story or characters development. In this sense, the flaws are aggressive and unapologetic. There is so little emphasis put on characters and dialogue that I didn’t even know the characters’ names. In fact, about two-thirds through the movie, I found myself confused as to whom Dunst’s character was in a romantic relationship with and who she just worked for. To make matters worse, two of the actors were so similar in appearance that when I first saw them in different scenes, I thought one was the younger version of the other in a flashback.
And this wasn’t an isolated experience. I had a conversation with another critic in my community, and she said the exact same thing about the confusion this movie wraps itself in. Perhaps it was a deliberate choice to force confusion on the audience to make us relate to the character better. Or perhaps it was just inexperience as a coherent filmmaker that pushed this effect.
Whatever the case may be in terms of the directors’ vision, it was a messy one at best, and “Woodshock” itself felt more like a five-minute short film dragged to a 100-minute run time.