Sometimes a movie comes along that makes you think, that challenges you, that poses a lot of questions but doesn’t provide a lot of answers, that draws you in, maybe puts a hypnotic spell over you, but doesn’t quite satisfy, then makes you think about it some more. After sitting through it, it’s the job of the film critic to pan it or praise it, to help readers decide whether to run to it or away from it.
That part isn’t going to be easy when dealing with “Woodshock,” a first-time writing and directing feature from the fashion designer sister team of Kate and Laura Mulleavy. It’s a moody piece of work, and that mood is one of gloom, in which something on the order of an unfinished story is played out in the woods and small towns of Northern California.
It’s there that Theresa (Kirsten Dunst) is seen helping her very sick mother through an end-of-life situation — the choice, it’s made clear, of her mother. There are the requisite scenes of Theresa all alone in her mom’s house, quietly sobbing over what’s just happened. But then there are suggestions that she’s not going through this alone, that there’s a man in her life. That would be Nick (Joe Cole), a logger who spends many hours of overtime at work.
But, hold on, there’s also another guy, Keith (Pilou Asbæk), for whom Theresa works at his medical marijuana dispensary. But is she just an employee, or were they once a couple? Even now, days after seeing the film, I’m still not sure. Lots of questions, not a lot of answers.
Of more interest is Theresa’s inclination to take off her shoes, set out for a walk in the woods, partake in some of the product that she and Keith dispense, then — hold on, let me check my notes ... yes, then slowly spin around and begin to levitate up toward the majestic Redwoods.
But she portrays no emotions about any of this. Neither, it seems, does anyone else in this town. Everyone is lowkey and kind of glum whether walking around alone or drinking beer or smoking pot or just sitting down to think. About what, we’re never told. One thing for sure, Theresa is the only one who levitates. Or is that in her imagination? Sorry, not a lot of answers.
In a film populated by these mopey people, it’s nice to see a couple of locals with some life in them. There’s young pot-head Johnny (Jack Kilmer), who’s a regular customer at the dispensary, and there’s aging pot user Ed (Steph DuVall), who may have a twinkle in his eye, but there’s probably not a lot of life left in him, as he’s in constant pain and has trouble breathing.
Let’s go back to that end-of-life business for a moment. It appears to be a hush-hush service provided by Theresa and Keith, and it involves sprinkling their marijuana with a liquid substance that renders it lethal when smoked. Hard-breathing, pain-filled Ed has been thinking about it.
Accompanied by a depressing and generic soundtrack of Pacific Northwest-like “pop” music, as well as the distant thrum of logging machinery in otherwise almost silent scenes, things go wrong for some of these characters. Mistakes are made. Whether they’re done by accident or on purpose or because someone’s smoking dope or someone’s possibly floating skyward instead of paying attention isn’t clear.
The film’s imagery ranges from beautiful to garish, from haunting to pretentious. There’s not much dialogue, and very little action. The biggest question is whether Theresa is an angelic provider of comfort to those who need it or an unwitting bringer of doom. Well, there’s also the question about her ability to levitate. Sorry, no answers are forthcoming.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written and directed by Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy
With Kirsten Dunst, Pilou Asbæk, Joe Cole, Steph DuVall