"Woodshock" follows a young woman in Northern California who is devastated by the recent loss of her mother. Her grief becomes compounded by a successive tragedy, after which she begins indulging in a powerful cannabinoid that alters her mental state to dangerous proportions.
Contrary to what the current IMDb rating may indicate (4.5, for the record), I found "Woodshock" to be undeniably beautiful and not deserving of the critical hits it's taken. It's emotionally-driven to the point of being almost anti-cerebral, but the good fortune of having someone like Kirsten Dunst playing the lead character makes the endeavor appear seamless. She is fantastic in the role, conveying inordinate amounts with so few faculties. Her emotional work is felt more than it's seen, which I suppose is true for the bulk of the film—in any case, Dunst is incredibly naturalistic here, as is the rest of the supporting cast. They each feel like people I could have known in the rural town I was raised in.
This is not a movie where much "happens," so-to-speak; I wouldn't call it an experimental film by any means, but it is certainly an art film that revels in experience rather than explanation—there is a narrative, but it is not narrative-driven, instead more concerned with impressions and sensibilities. There is gorgeous cinematography throughout with overlays and crossfades that seem to be invoking Tarkovsky, and montages that recall Terrence Malick.
The writer-director team (sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy, founders of the fashion label Rodarte), said they were greatly influenced by the Redwoods of Northern California where they grew up, which were incorporated into the film. I will say that the trees themselves do not take up as much visual or narrative space as I had expected they would, but there is an ominous, majestic, yet haunting representation of them. I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, so the landscapes, towns, and even the characters feel very familiar to me. Each of the characters, from the sparsely-drawn to the most significant, register as "real" people, which helps ground the film's darker and more tragic turns.
In the end, I found "Woodshock" to be a legitimately well-made film that's been slagged off by anti- intellectuals, which is ironic given that it's not an intellectual movie per se. It's an emotional journey if anything, set in an extraordinary place, among ordinary people, in unusual circumstances. Dunst's performance alone is haunting (or haunted), and reason enough to view the film—I found it even more interesting than her more muted (but equally great) performance in "Melancholia." This is certainly a love-it-or-hate-it-type film, but as a dark, impressionistic endeavor, "Woodshock" succeeds largely with the help of realistic characters and realistic performances. 9/10.
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