Venice 2017: Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s Woodshock

“Apparently the word refers to an actual traumatic state caused by getting lost in a forest,” begins Jonathan Romney in Screen. “However, if the title Woodshock leads you to expect a horror movie about the results of bad acid at a 60s music festival, you’re not that far off in terms of the sheer disorientation induced by watching this unfocused headtrip of a psychological thriller. This is the film-making debut of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, fashion designers and creators of the Rodarte label, who previously made their mark in film with their costume work on Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (they have a costume credit here too, alongside Christie Wittenborn). Woodshock might gain some commercial traction from Kirsten Dunst’s presence as the psychically unravelling protagonist, but otherwise it’s an ill-fitting, awkwardly stitched confection.”

“Shot in Humboldt County’s redwood country, this undeniably somewhat picturesque film can be seen as a spectacular exercise in narrative withholding,” suggests Glenn Kenny at “There’s a lot of shots of Dunst wandering around her character’s house in various states of undress, looking confused and irritated. There are some scenes at a bar, where the guy who runs the dispensary hangs out and gets very drunk and bangs on the jukebox, all of whose selections were likely filched from the collection of a former Mudd Club DJ. . . . But almost nothing ever happens, as a Feelies song that’s not on this film’s soundtrack puts it, and this is very frustrating. So one starts looking for meaning in other aspects of the film. Are the varied flower patterns on the wallpaper trying to tell us something? But you can only ask ‘what am I missing’ for so long until you conclude there really is not much ‘there’ there.”

“With its layer upon layer of filters, lens flares, neon imprints, overlaid floral motifs and crystalline refractions, the film is as extravagantly embellished as one of their most gawp-worthy gowns,” offers Variety’s Guy Lodge. “Yet this sparse meditation on a legal cannabis dealer (Kirsten Dunst) sent into concentric spirals of trauma and hallucination by her mother’s death could desperately use some extra detailing at the level of character and psychology.”

“The images are certainly beautifully captured by Finnish cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg (Concrete Night), whose woozy and occasionally honey-dipped or hazy camerawork is always atmospheric,” grants Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “The sets and props of production designer K. K. Barrett help to create a somewhat timeless feel, with not a modern car or cell phone in sight and with an ambient touch that’s clearly reminiscent of his earlier work with Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola. But these contributions, combined with [the Mulleavys’] costumes, don’t really move the story forward or inward so much as just dress it up all pretty-like.”

“One bright spot is Peter Raeburn’s shimmery score which is woozy electronica and diffuse drones marked with surprising bursts of harp,” grants Jessica Kiang at the Playlist. “But then filmmaking craft is not the issue here, it’s the timidity of the storytelling that sits in sharp contrast to the boldness of some of the visual and sonic experimentation.”

Amy Larocca talks with Dunst and the Mulleavys for The Cut. “‘We’re all so emotionally interconnected,’ Kate explains.”

Updates, 9/20: “Filmmaking might be a natural sidestep for fashion designers—as Tom Ford has twice proven, though he had the foresight to use strong novels as building blocks—but Woodshock is a painterly bore,” finds Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. “At their most basic level, movies are supposed to actually move; this one is as becalmed as its perpetually high heroine.”

“A tedious but tremendously expressive exercise in subjective cinema, Woodshock is a sensory-driven experience from start to finish,” writes David Ehrlich at IndieWire. “Echoes of The Virgin Suicides reverberate throughout, especially when Peter Flickenberg’s camera follows Dunst into the forest and lies down with her in the grass. . . . There’s hardly a single moment of the film that isn’t somehow illustrating humanity’s relationship with nature, that inextricable dynamic visible in everything from the wallpaper of Theresa’s house to the primal way in which she uses a berry to bring color to her lips. The Mulleavy sisters are on much shakier grounds when they try to articulate that same relationship.”

“This is a full-blown art movie by first-time filmmakers, with all the positive and negative connotations that status comes with,” writes Emily Yoshida at Vulture, where she then elaborates.

The Mulleavy sisters “have a respectable list on the Criterion website of their favorite ten titles from the collection, from Robert Altman’s 3 Women to Víctor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive,” notes Henry Stewart at Slant. “They obviously appreciate cinema, which shows in their mistily shot and dreamily jump-cut-addled debut feature. But for all of its formal sophistication, Woodshock is vacuous in content, an insufferably gloomy emotional study. For its stylish superficiality, you could lump it with Tom Ford’s A Single Man under the banner of Fashion Designer Cinema.”

Updates, 9/24:Woodshock is the rare drug movie that, as you watch it, if you surrender to it, stirs the sensations of having taken drugs,” writes the Village Voice’s Alan Scherstuhl. “It’s a potent evocation of pot, of your mind in a stoned stupor, of your eyes glazing over as the light around you becomes entrancing. Not much happens in most of its scenes, but there’s much for the patient or the high to get caught up in. I spent much of the running time happily puzzling over the complex reflections and refractions of light onscreen, wondering in individual moments, as her character sleeps and grieves, whether we were watching Dunst through a mirror, or through panes of glass, or through a hazy funhouse of both.”

“In the hands of any number of other actors, Woodshock would have crumbled,” writes Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey. “But you can’t take your eyes off her—it’s her second performance this year that seems not only aware of her beauty, but of its baggage. . . . Sure, some of Woodshock is film school nonsense. But how often is anyone even willing to take these risks anymore? And, more importantly, how many more innovative artists are going to want to take them, when the current critical climate greets them with such hostility?”

For Christy Lemire at, “when there is a climactic jolt of violent action, it comes out of nowhere, and it’s so shockingly inconsistent with everything that preceded it that you’re more likely to burst out laughing than gasp in horror. Then again, the dream—or the drug-induced hallucination, or whatever this is—can only last for so long.”

For AnOther,Sophie Bew talks with the Mulleavy sisters about “their most inspirational movies.” And Jose Solís interviews them, too, for the Film Stage.

Update, 9/27:Rolling Stone’s David Fear suggests that “there's something going on in Woodshock that suggests real artists in chrysalis form; this wobbly first movie is a compelling enough work to make you curious about what their fourth or fifth movie might bring. And if nothing else, they have demonstrated a real bond with Dunst, who has a knack for grounding things when they start to float away.”

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