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Theresa (Kirsten Dunst) is our guide through a surreal world in “Woodshock.” | A24

In the ‘Woodshock’ forest, pomposity grows and grows

SHARE In the ‘Woodshock’ forest, pomposity grows and grows
SHARE In the ‘Woodshock’ forest, pomposity grows and grows

By the time I got through ”Woodshock,” the stench was killing me and strong.

There was the persistent air of pretentious nonsense.

The distinct perfume of self-pleased, overconfident, artsy claptrap emanating from the co-directors’ palette.

I definitely detected more than a whiff of overacting.

As for the plot and some of the late-movie twists — what’s that smell? It’s what bulls leave behind after a satisfying meal.

You know a movie is aiming for the stars while digging itself into a hole when it features scenes of tree-hugging — as in a character literally hugging a tree — and doesn’t seem to understand how that is an open invitation to mockery if the subsequent material doesn’t step up to the plate.

Kirsten Dunst, an actress of solid (if not particularly searing) talent but often admirable ambition in her choice of challenging film roles, stars as Theresa, who will guide us through this hazy, convoluted, Byzantine journey. (We quickly realize Theresa’s point of view doesn’t necessarily jibe with reality, but that’s OK, that’s potentially interesting.)

Very early on, we see a heartbroken Theresa with her bedridden, terminally ill mother (Susan Traylor), preparing to help her mom commit assisted suicide. Theresa spikes a joint with a poisonous liquid substance, gives her mom a few last kisses on the forehead, and then presses the deadly joint to her mother’s lips.

Nearly everything about that scene — nearly every choice of camera angle, nearly every decision about how long to remain on a particular shot — announces “Woodshock” as a film more concerned with the filmmakers’ intention to advertise their artistic vision and provoke us than any attempt to engage the audience on an authentic and empathetic level.

Turns out Theresa works at a medical marijuana dispensary run by the brooding and deeply troubled and obviously creepy Keith (Pilou Asbaek, Euron Greyjoy from “Game of Thrones”). In addition to selling pot over the counter, Keith has a thriving side business as the Doctor Kevorkian of the neighborhood. Ready to end it all? Keith’s your man!

Not that Keith isn’t haunted by his role as the middleman to death’s door. Most nights, you can find him at the local bar, hammered out of his mind, pouring coins into the jukebox, dancing like a second-rate Jim Morrison and acting like a third-rate Michael Shannon.

Theresa lives with the dullard Nick (Joe Cole), who works for Keith — who obviously has a thing for Theresa.

Nick resembles another key character in the movie. Maybe that has significance. Maybe not.

Theresa’s resemblance to her mother was so strong, it’s a point of comment in the movie. Maybe that has significance. Maybe not.

“Woodshock” is its own worst enemy. The more the filmmakers play around with what’s real and what’s a dream or an element of Theresa’s delusions, the less we’re invested in what’s actually happening with Theresa. (A late scene of shocking violence is rendered dramatically impotent because by that time, there’s one of two possibilities: another cheap fantasy, or a lazy and arbitrary plot development.)

The directors of “Woodshock” are Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sibling founders of the Rodarte brand.

They clearly have an eye for fashion. As filmmakers, they clearly have an eye for fashion.

A24 presents a film written and directed by Kate & Laura Mulleavy. Rated R (for drug use, language and a scene of violence). Running time: 101 minutes. Opens Friday at Landmark Century Centre.


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