Queen of Earth (2015)

Queen of Earth (2015)
  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Alex Ross Perry
  • Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit


Elisabeth Moss delivers a fearless performance in this tour-de-force portrait of psychological breakdown. In her second collaboration with acclaimed director Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), she stars as Catherine, a woman careening towards emotional collapse after a one-two punch of heartbreaking events. Seeking peace and solitude, she heads to the secluded lakehouse of her best friend, Virginia (Inherent Vice’s Katherine Waterston). But their quiet country retreat becomes a journey into steadily mounting hysteria as past and present collide and the love-hate relationship between the two women threatens to tear them apart. Driven by Moss’ unforgettable performance, this darkly funny psychological thriller immerses viewers in the shattered mind of a woman on the edge.

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  • A house by the lake. A woman in the midst of a meltdown. A friend who wields both comfort and contempt. Queen of Earth may not be an outright horror movie, but it often functions under the guise of one.

    Alex Ross Perry, who wrote and directed the film, puts his cinematic influences front and center. The models here are Ingmar Bergman and Roman Polanski. One can’t depict two women locked in isolated combat without resurrecting Bergman’s classic mind-meld Persona, nor can a woman go through as wrenching a breakdown as Perry’s leading Elisabeth Moss does without inviting comparison to Polanski’s Repulsion. Perry fully embraces their cinematic styles. Like Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, which paid tribute to Sixties and Seventies European erotica in both form and content, Perry crafts a barbed valentine to his film heroes, deploying a meticulously calibrated visual evocation (that final freeze frame!) that would not find Queen of Earth out of place in a line-up of Sixties and Seventies psychological horror dramas.

    “Why are you doing this to me?” Catherine (Moss) demands of her boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley), who has ruptured her rapture. Her face is smeared with tears and running mascara, her eyes are agonised, her mouth curdled with blame and bitterness. Sean Price Williams’ camera captures Moss in its crosshairs and essentially holds her captive with his claustrophobic compositions. And why not: Moss delivers a tour-de-force that is startling in its fearsome intensity. She is terrifyingly brilliant. Her Catherine falls spectacularly apart, but Moss shows there were already cracks in the façade.

    Catherine is the daughter of a renowned artist, whose recent death has already destabilised her and whose depression she may have inherited. She seeks shelter at the secluded lakeside home owned by the family of her friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston). Virginia is there as well, ostensibly to offer consolation, but also to spend some romantic time with next-door neighbour Rich (Patrick Fugit), whose increasing presence unnerves Catherine. It comes to pass via flashbacks that Catherine and Virginia were at the house a year earlier and that Catherine’s insistence on bringing James along already hinted at tensions between the two girlfriends. “We should trade roles and see how we feel then,” Virginia says when Catherine rebukes her for being irritated by James’ inclusion. Indeed, one could read the present-day happenings as Virginia’s revenge.

    “Once they become envy drains, I have to have nothing to do with them. I can’t help it, I just hate them,” Virginia admits to Catherine at one point, and there is a malevolence that cloaks Virginia, at least from Catherine’s fractured point of view. It’s almost an incantation, the frequency with which Catherine begs to be left alone or snipes that it’s none of Virginia’s business who she was speaking with on the phone (who is on the other end of that line?). Yet there is something in Moss’ mannered unpredictability that hints at a magnification of the madness. Catherine knows her behaviour rattles Virginia. Queen of Earth’s most chilling scene may be Virginia’s instinctive grab of the knife on the table at the end of Catherine’s becalmed verbal evisceration of Rich over dinner.

    Moss and the equally formidable Waterston are hardly ever seen fully together in a frame. One may see the entire length of Waterston’s ranginess but only view the top of Moss’ head. Conversations are conducted in separate close-ups. Catherine and Virginia never talk with each other, they don’t necessarily talk to or at each other either. If anything, both are carrying on side-by-side monologues that may, on occasion, cross paths with one another. Hostilities abound. One suspects both women – indeed, any of the characters in the film – would combust at the merest kindness. Queen of Earth is a cold and deliberately distant film that, more often than that, dares you to keep watching even as it makes itself more and more oblique and inaccessible.

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