Over the past several years, sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, creators of the quirky fashion house Rodarte, have had an auspicious connection with the film world.
They clothe scores of actresses for the awards circuit’s red carpets. They created many of the splendid ballet costumes for Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film “Black Swan.” They even received a specific thank you from Natalie Portman for their costuming work on the project when she won the Oscar for best actress, accepting the award in a deep purple gown designed for the event.
So when they decided to follow Tom Ford into the narrow ranks of fashion entrepreneurs turned filmmakers as a writing/directing duo, it seemed promising. But things are not always as they seem.
The Mulleavys’ feature debut, “Woodshock,” is rag trade moviemaking. The psychological thriller stars Kirsten Dunst (another longtime customer) as Theresa, a woman of constant sorrow in rural Northern California. It’s an area where big trees and broad rivers give you a sense of where you fit in the universe, and the sounds of chain saws and power chippers from the nearby mill remind you that nothing lasts forever.
Theresa feels a deep-rooted connection to the towering redwoods, rubbing their bark with her hands as she walks among them. It’s an odd tree-hugging attitude, seeing as how her husband (Joe Cole) is a lumberjack, but she feels a personal connection. Living in her mother’s house, built from such trees, she strokes the wood-paneled walls.
She is in emotional duress, having just helped her beloved, terminally ill mother calmly pass away with some pot from the medical marijuana dispensary where she works, spiked with an unknown lethal liquid.
With her mother gone and her detached husband leaving for work each morning without a goodbye, Theresa’s scant social contact comes from her work at the cannabis counter. Her boss (Pilou Asbæk) has a large ego but minimal social grace and self-awareness. He and her husband spend their evenings drinking and cranking up the jukebox at the local workingman’s bar, while Theresa stays home, gets stoned, tries on her mother’s camisole, looks moody and says very little.
There seems to be a theme here about cutting down old growth to make room for new life, but nobody is in a mood to plant any seeds. The film is more about feelings than plotlines, with present and past moments cut together in druggy, hallucinatory flashbacks that make you wonder which iteration of Theresa is dreaming of the other.
The sparse action picks up a tad when another elderly local needs one of Theresa’s fatal joints to help him float heavenward. Things do not work out well, carrying her difficulties to a whole new level.
Dunst’s icy allure is in good form throughout this bad trip, but the narrative’s slow ticktock of menace fails to reach a satisfying climax. “Woodshock” is visually trippy, and its finale strives to transcend everyday physics and enter a realm of surreal magical realism. I’m not sure what the Mulleavys were aiming at, but they missed the target.