WOODSHOCK

Producer: Ben LeClair, K.K. Barrett, Ken Kao and Michael Costigan
Director: Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy
Writer: Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Joe Cole, Pilou Asbaek, Stephen DuVall, Jack Kilmer, Susan Traylor, Joel McCoy, Lorelei Linklater and Michael Pavlicek
Studio: A24 Films

D-

Proof positive that skill in designing dresses does not ensure an ability to fashion a good film, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters who founded the successful haute-couture firm Rodarte, deliver a filmmaking debut that offers a few striking individual images, but in a package so opaque, repetitive and dull that few viewers will have the patience to endure the entire thing.

Kirsten Dunst plays Theresa, who works in a medical marijuana shop run by grower-owner Keith (Pilou Asbaek), who apparently cultivates different strains of the drug that he keeps in nifty little bottles arrayed like fine wines on the glass shelves of the place. Using some of the inventory, she laces a joint with poison for her terminally-ill mother (Susan Traylor). The act sends her into deep grief that even her handsome, supportive live-in boyfriend Nick (Joe Cole), a logger in the surrounding forest, can’t prod her out of. In her distraught, sleepless state she hallucinates and wanders about, sometimes banging wooden posts into the ground around their house and—if the visuals are to be literally believed—occasionally levitates by the redwoods.

She also makes a terrible mistake when she prepares another fatal drug cocktail, this time for a sad-faced, ill customer named Ed (Stephen DuVall). She gives Ed a perfectly harmless bag instead, and passes the one intended for him to young Johnny (Jack Kilmer), a pal of Keith’s. Johnny’s death causes consternation, of course, and Ed is none too pleased either.

This scenario might have been the basis for a tight little modern noir—especially if one brought a cop into the picture—but the only suspense the Mulleavys seem to be interested in engendering in the viewer appears to be challenging them to decipher where, if anyplace, the story is going, and why we should be at all interested in it. Most of the plot, to use the term loosely, involves the camera—worked by Peter Finckenberg—following Theresa about in a haze (at one point she removes a full carton of eggs out of the refrigerator and crushes them in the garbage disposal; the fridge also contains, it appears, a half-eaten cake that attracts a bunch of insects over the course of the film), or watching Keith as he dances to the jukebox at the local bar and tries picking up girls there.

Some of the widescreen images the Mulleavys contrive, and Finckenberg captures, have a dreamily intoxicating effect—the levitation sequence is certainly eye-catching—but overall, as edited together by Julia Bloch and Dino Jonsater, they don’t convey much beyond Theresa’s moroseness, her status as one of the walking wounded. Perhaps the cutting between shots—from the redwoods, let’s say, to the poles Theresa keeps banging into the ground—is supposed to mean something, but if so it’s hard to tell what.
Of course, art is a very personal thing, and some artists prefer to keep their purposes unclear. Certainly one thing that’s obvious from “Woodshock” is that the Mulleavys consider themselves to be artists. All too obvious, in fact—their film winds up feeling like one of those insufferable “experimental” shorts one encounters at festivals from time to time and wishes you hadn’t—except in this case it drags on for an interminable hundred minutes.

It remains to add that none of the other actors shine here. Asbaek overdoes the zonked-out business, and Cole comes across as a cipher. No one else makes much of an impression—not that they’re afforded much chance.

The Mulleavy sisters, along with Christie Wittenhorn, are also credited with designing the costumes for “Woodshock.” They seem fine. Might one suggest that they consider sticking to what they do best and leave the filmmaking to others?