"Do you ever regret it, cutting everything down?"
All things considered, it’s not that surprising that certain fashion designers have been able to make a successful transition to fil directing. Meticulous design, thematic links and careful construction plays a significant role in each profession, and with the likes of Tom Ford proving that such a talent can translate brilliantly from one medium to another. It’s for that reason that I was intrigued by ‘Woodshock’ the directorial debut of famed costume designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy.
In the wake of a profound loss, a haunted young woman (Kirsten Dunst) tries to find solace in an experimental drug, only to spiral into a world of chaos and confusion as her perception on reality becomes all the more vague and her fractured emotional state makes matters all the more complicated.
Another advantage of entering the film industry from a fashion background is that you need to convey a sense of mood and atmosphere, which is something the Mulleavy sisters did excpeitonally well with their costume work in Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’. I bring all of this up because there definitely a very strong sense of mood and atmosphere within ‘Woodshock’, but unfortunately not much else to go with it. You’ll find no shortage of provocative images and compelling compositions throughout the movie, but you will struggle to find any sense of meaning or cohesiveness to said film as it unfolds.
This is very disappointing for me as in brief glimpses the movie looked phenomenal. It appeared to be haunting and atmospheric in all the right ways, in fact I would gladly sit through any five minutes of ‘Woodshock’ in utter awe. But therein lies the problem, its five minutes long and it is in fact a whole feature. It’s a feature in which nothing seems to happen and there’s no discernible substance to make me feel invested in these hypnotic images. I was hoping that the movie would feel reminiscent of a David Lynch movie but in actuality it feels more reminiscent of a modern Terrance Malick film.
The film makes the mistake of thinking that well composed images will automatically instil meaning unto itself. It genuinely feels like something a film student would make. It tries to work in a plethora of provocative visuals in the hope that they will instantly garner a reaction from the viewer. It seeks to work the narrative around these images and let each individual moment work for itself. There’s never any through line or sense of structure to the movie as it unfolds. If this were the first ever arthouse movie I’d seen then it might impress me, but as someone who’s experienced the work of Lynch and Tarkovsky I can say that individual images do little to draw emotions from the viewer when they’re not bestowed with any meaning.
I understand it may be a lot to ask a film whose very concept is about the altering of reality to incorporate any structure into that. But I think where ‘Woodshock’ fails yet again is that it seeks to establish itself as a movie with real stakes and consequences. It’s caught awkwardly in between wanting to focus entirely on mind numbing visuals but also demands that the audience be invested in the characters and world. It’s hard to do either of those things when the movie hasn’t provided us with anything to draw us into each aspect.
There isn’t even any development to allow me to feel the progression of the main character this story supposedly revolves around. At the start of the movie the protagonist is already despondent so this supposed descent into madness has no impact. It also leaves Kirsten Dunst with very little to do performance wise and that in itself is a crime. There’s no indication of progression in mood, tone or atmosphere, not just for the main character but for the entire movie. The intensity, level of intrigue and overall style of the film remains consistently flat and therefore comes across as less of a stream of consciousness and as more of a straight line.
I’m honestly running out of things to say at this point because ‘Woodshock’ is so despairingly dull that I can’t really add anything to it. There are some brilliant visual features in their incorporation of soft focus and lens flares but with all of them I found myself asking “to what end?” Where any of this going is and what purpose does it have? Not everything needs to be explained but at the same time I feel like I need something to grasp in order to latch onto any aspect of the movie that would make me feel remotely invested in it. It’s simply a pretentious movie and I’ve put off using that word until this point because it’s just too easy of a way to describe it. It’s a film that even if you love it, that still won’t come close to how much it’s in love with itself.
I’d say ‘Woodshock’ is all style with no substance but frankly there isn’t even that much style to it either.