In it’s best moments Woodshock is mesmerizing, devastating, unknowable and relatable. All in equal measure. In it’s worst, it’s muddled and meandering, a narrative representation of a turbulent forest of grief. It seems quite likely that this intentional. And in that, there’s merit, if not enjoyment.
The film follows Theresa, a young woman in a small logging town on the brink of losing her mother. Which is to say, the first few scenes of the film are an emotional wringer in which we watch Theresa help her mother end her suffering with the aid of a potent cannaboid drug. It’s an act of profound love and selflessness that’s so intimate it almost feels wrong to observe. It destroyed me, as I’m sure it destroyed others, and I imagine that feeling is the perfect primer for the rest of Theresa’s journey.
In the wake of her mother’s death, Theresa is alternately numb and in agonizing despair. She unpacks the belongs she and her husband share and begins to settle them in her mother’s home for the long haul — “It’s where she wanted us.” — but she does so in such a way as to reclaim the space from the sorrow. Her husband works long hours, logging, and when he returns home she asks if he ever regrets it. Cutting down all the trees. He doesn’t seem to think much on it, but she does. Even as she returns to work, in the very shop where she was able to acquire the drugs for her mother, and some of a different stipe for herself in the intervening days, she’s there, but not fully present. Theresa’s reality and hallucinations and grief all blend into a beautiful motif.
There’s not a lot of plot here, or even much in the way of dialogue, but as Theresa slips deeper into grief and comes to lean on the escape of the drugs, she begins to question elements of her reality, and those around her begin to question what they know of her. Every frame is meditative and difficult, but Woodshock delivers as a hypnotic work that dares to ask questions that have no satisfactory answer. Dunst has rarely been better than she has in recent years and even the sparse tapestry of narrative at play here gives her more than enough to be getting on with. I don’t know if it’s that Dunst has finally come fully into her own or if the industry is finally sending her roles that allow her to play into the mysterious melancholy that Sofia Coppola first tapped in The Virgin Suicides, but even when her projects don’t fully deliver, Dunst has proven more than worth the admission wherever she wanders.
Woodshock isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a curiosity that will engage some and infuriate others.