Directed by Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy
by Honor Devi Thapa
Lauded as a feminist triumph, dismissed as a long perfume ad: Woodshock has opened up a dialogue about the female gaze in America’s film industry.
Set in Humboldt County’s redwood forests, Kate and Laura Mulleavy successfully create an atmosphere in their directorial debut. Even without much of a script, Kirsten Dunst gives a compelling performance as she slips into a hypnotic unreality - a world filled with double exposures, hazy dreamscapes, dial tones and jukebox songs.
Dunst plays Theresa, an amalgamation of her previous roles (Melancholia, The Virgin Suicides, and, more recently, The Beguiled). Wearing lacey white chemises (designed by the Mulleavys’ fashion label, Rodarte) and adorned with flowers and ennui, Dunst walks through the forest like a ghost in a half-forgotten dream. Often using hallucinogenic drugs as a crutch, her character is acutely alone. After the death of her mother, Theresa occupies an indeterminate time and space - a woman haunted by her own existence.
Filmed through a female lens, it’s clear Theresa is frustrated by the men in her life - a complacent boyfriend who cuts down trees (Joe Cole) and her charming employer at the dispensary (Pilou Asbæk). She prefers to be left to her own devices (sitting in the bathroom and smoking pot in her underwear, for example). She is trapped - unmoored when sober; frantic and paranoid when she hallucinates. The movie often compares her to the Redwood trees: majestic and ethereal, threatened to be silenced.
Peter Flinckenberg’s cinematography is the lifeblood of the film: lush and experimental, beautiful and visually decadent. Driven by mood and tone instead of plot, the movie has received harsh criticism - many reviewers advise the Mulleavys should stay within the realm of fashion. “If we were two men in this industry, it would be different,” Kate Mulleavy told Refinery29 in an interview. Instead, the Mulleavys reject the male gaze. They have the confidence to be themselves; to be two women in an industry dominated by men.
Ultimately, Kate and Laura Mulleavy have started an important discussion in film. What is it like to be a woman? Woodshock offers a glimpse: surrounded by daydreams, haunted by feelings. A beautiful tragedy; a poetic nightmare. Woodshock is a woman’s story - however, it is important to note that it is not every woman’s story. Kirsten Dunst’s character is a white woman of opportunity and privilege; the film was written and directed by two white women. While the film industry certainly needs more women, it also needs more women of color. It needs minorities, non-binaries, and people of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. As more women share their stories it is important for others to do the same. Cinema needs these voices - we all do. A dialogue has started. It’s imperative the conversation continues.