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Movie Review

Kirsten Dunst in the breakdown lane

Kirsten Dunst produced and stars in “Woodshock.”
Kirsten Dunst produced and stars in “Woodshock.”A24

With movies like “Melancholia,” “Bachelorette,” “Upside Down,” and “Marie Antoinette” on her CV, you could argue that Kirsten Dunst is one of the more adventurous stars of her generation, taking chances on projects and roles that push from the edgy toward the experimental. In that regard, “Woodshock,” which Dunst executive produced, has to go down as one of the failures — a woozy, wheezy impressionistic take on a woman’s nervous breakdown that aspires to the avant-garde but plays like a bad head-trip movie from the late 1960s.

It’s dreadful. Worse, it’s not quite bad enough to be much fun.

“Woodshock” also may stand as the first psycho-horror movie for the legal weed generation. Dunst plays Theresa, who works for a medical marijuana dispensary in the Pacific Northwest and who is first seen helping her terminally ill mother (Susan Traylor) off to the Great Beyond with the aid of a laced joint. We’re to understand that this event — and a mistake where a similarly doctored bud ends up in the wrong hands and lungs — emotionally unmoors Theresa, to the point where she starts experimenting on herself.

She prepares five laced marijuana cigarettes, which means five different trip sequences for the filmmakers to dramatize and surreal-ify. These offer the most interesting and energetic scenes in “Woodshock,” proof that Kate and Laura Mulleavey, the fashion-designer sisters making their writing-directing debut, possess an undeniable visual sense. Their music choices, rising mostly from the early New York indie-punk end of the spectrum (Television, the Feelies, Suicide), are sharp, too.


And . . . that’s about it. The Mulleaveys illustrate Theresa’s crushing guilt via seemingly endless shots of her staring pensively into the distance in double-exposure confusion or wandering small and lost among the giant redwood trunks that serve as a potent, hazy metaphor for her mother’s strength and the loss thereof. (Why the “Woodshock” soundtrack doesn’t employ Michael Gordon’s “Timber,” a mesmerising minimalist piece composed for wooden 2x4s, remains a mystery.)


There are men wandering through the mist: Theresa’s barely seen logger boyfriend (Joe Cole), her ailing father (Steph DuVall), a youthful customer (Jack Kilmer, Val’s son), and her obnoxious dispensary boss, Keith (Pilou Asbaek), a mansplaining hipster with an argument for every occasion. But getting close to this heroine is not good for anyone’s health.

On one level, “Woodshock” wants to work as an abstract drama of a repressed woman striking back, figuratively and literally, against an unthinking patriarchy. There’s a solid tradition there, from both male filmmakers (Polanski’s “Repulsion,” for one) and, more critically, female (the films of Maya Deren and Chantal Akerman’s groundbreaking “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels” are two important forerunners).

The best of those films infuse their ideas and anger with a cinematic energy that holds them together. “Woodshock,” by contrast, unravels well before its beleaguered central figure does.

The Mulleaveys know how to make pretty, pointed pictures, but they haven’t yet figured out what to do with them.

★ ½

Written and directed by Kate and Laura Mulleavey. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Pilou Asbaek, Joe Cole. At Kendall Square. 100 minutes. R (drug use, language, a scene of violence).

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.