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Kate and Laura Mulleavy Discuss "Natural Evolution" From Fashion to Film

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Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock. Photo courtesy of A24.

Famed fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy don’t believe in confining their creative voice to one medium. Trading in the mannequins in which they lay out their Rodarte designs, the Mulleavy sisters have turned to film to channel their “creative instinct,” manifesting in their debut film, Woodshock, starring Kirsten Dunst.

Dunst plays Theresa, a woman coping with the loss of her mother with a psychoactive, highly-addictive cannabinoid drug. The substance – a clear liquid she drips onto ground-up marijuana flowers – thrusts Theresa into the trenches of her psyche, which to the audience, presents itself in obscured reflections that are glittery, sequined, kaleidoscope-esque or all of the above, shot by Director of Photography Peter Flinckenberg.

A majority of the film involves the main character immersing herself in this reality-altering state, embellishing in her disorientation – the film’s title references the ‘woodshock’ phenomenon which describes the feeling of being lost in the woods. And Theresa is, indeed, up in the woods, namely the ones down in her mind.

The underlying narrative is that Theresa and her friend Keith (played by Pilou Asbæk) manufacture and sell this especially potent concoction to terminally-ill people, some even aiding in euthanasia. In the opening scenes, Theresa is seen giving her mother a dose of the drug, the domino that sends Theresa in a spiral of addiction to cope with her mother’s death.

“We don’t think Theresa’s going off into nothing, we actually think she’s going into the place she desired the whole time,” Laura said during the film’s press stop in San Francisco. “And that’s complicated because it’s questioning the idea of her agency and what she’s choosing.”

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Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock. Photo by Merrick Morton, courtesy of A24.

According to the Mulleavy sisters, subjectivity was the driving force for Woodshock and Dunst’s character. From top to bottom, the movie follows this foundation: With the paper-thin plot line as the jumping point, nearly every aspect of the film is up for interpretation, though very little is offered to gain any footing on what all the symbolism means.

And that, Laura and Kate explained, was an effort to uphold their protagonist’s integrity.

“The only blueprint we had was that it would feel wrong if you tried to explain her,” shared Laura.

“It’s a movie that isn’t ruled by ‘this needs to happen, so we can get to here,’” Kate added, explaining that their subjective approach gave them a ton of choices in the editing room. “We basically say the journey you go on with this character is about self-discovery and transformation; The answers are inside of her. Kirsten is an amazing actress that tries to leave the internal external, but there aren’t going to be answers because maybe we don’t have the answers to the bigger questions that she’s grappling with.”

Switching over from fashion to film was, as the sisters put it, “a natural evolution.” Though the two disciplines vastly differ on the technical spectrum, Laura said what guided them through was their 11-year experience as clothing business owners that carried over to filmmaking.

“We know how to protect something creatively and to really make sure that our voice is the voice we want to put out in the world,” she said, emphasizing further, “If we make things because we care about the meaning behind them, that intention usually means you have to be careful with it and make sure it’s being protected along the way.”

Laura and Kate’s label Rodarte debuted its first collection in 2005, made of 10 hand-finished pieces that were described as “dark, moody and romantic.” The brand was a hit in stores and its first collection was presented at New York Fashion Week shortly after.

Within a year, Rodarte was recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and in the following years their collections received accolades, were featured in museum exhibitions and Vogue magazine covers. The Academy of Art University presented the Mulleavys with an honorary doctorate at the Spring 2016 Graduate Fashion Show.

The bridge into film came in 2009 when they were commissioned as costume designers for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman. Speaking to their experience, Laura said being on set was a kind of “mutual process of sharing.”

“You’re benefiting from the people around you and they’re benefiting from you as well and that’s how people thrive – people thrive when they feel needed and that they’re being valued,” she said. “I think our intuition coming from designers is the same, protecting that creative space and for everyone to understand that every person and every aspect should feel important.”   

Moving forward, Laura and Kate are looking to write another film, seeing that their film bug shouldn’t “be designated to a six-month timeline,” nor forced “to move on from your ideas” and encourage others to do the same.

“Interestingly enough, if you’re in school or not, if you have something to say, it’s your job to say it and you can find a way to do that,” said Kate. “And I think that’s very empowering because we certainly need many different voices, whether in film or fashion or art.”

Woodshock is now playing in San Francisco.