Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s first foray into Hollywood goes where most films don’t want to go: It makes you feel bad. Woodshock is 100 minutes of what it feels like to be so utterly depressed that reality begins to bend. That’s going to turn a lot of people off, but the Mulleavy sisters should be applauded for their silver screen darkness.
“We wanted to go there,” Kate tells me over the phone. “We wanted to make something that was both sublime and brutal—something that finds the beauty in that brutality.”
Woodshock centers around Theresa (a stunningly nuanced Kirsten Dunst), a woman stuck in a loveless relationship who loses herself to grief and depression following the death of her mother. She works at a medical marijuana dispensary in northern California, and may or may not help roll lethal joints for patients longing for assisted suicide. She also smokes a lot of marijuana, but this isn’t a stoner film. It’s a downer. As Theresa unravels, so, too, does the film. The line between memory, reality, and dreams is obscured to the point of being unrecognizable. It’s layered, it’s heavy, it’s all too true for those who have experienced something as debilitating as Theresa has.
The Mullleavy sisters allow atmosphere and clothing (obviously) to illustrate Theresa’s deep slip into depression. The shinier her Rodarte clothing, the more out of it Theresa becomes until some semblance of enlightenment and release is found. “How does death affect life?” Kate asks. “How does it transform the body and the mind? For us, this was about making the internal experience of grief and depression external.” The veil in which we experience Theresa is hazy and grim, the occasional shimmer natural light dims in favor of artificial neon and hallucinations. It’s hard to empathize with Theresa, but the Mulleavys succeed in conveying her distress and frank apathy.
What meaning can be found in a movie as heavy as Woodshock? Well, that all depends on your personal experience with depression. For me, there isn’t a singular moral, but rather a portrait of one individual’s demons. It excels in capturing depression’s ability to make zero sense of the life you’re used to, like how easily Theresa mixes up labeling marijuana vials—something that should be second nature for her. Through Theresa’s boyfriend, the Mulleavys highlight how even the people closest to us don’t quite necessarily know how to deal with a depressed loved one; they blame the person—not the disease. It shines a non-patronizing light on vices and the dangerous ways in which some cope with depression, grief, and loss. Woodshock is fragile, but intentionally so, and a viewing experience you won’t soon forget—even if you try to shake its sadness off once the credits roll.