Queen of Earth, 2015.
Directed by Alex Ross Perry.
Starring Elizabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Kentucker Audley and Patrick Fugit.
Two women who grew up together discover they have drifted apart when they retreat to a lake house together.
There is a strong sense of awkward tension permeating the air whenever the characters of Alex Ross Perry’s latest film, Queen of Earth, strike up a conversation. It’s a guilty, dirty pleasure to be the fly on the wall shifting eyes back and forth between their highly expressive facial gestures, often ranging from insecure laughter to condescending spiteful looks. The best part is that these people are supposed to be friends caring for one another during dark periods of each others lives.
With that mentioned, if there is one thing to take away from the complex two-faced personalities on display here, it’s that you never really know who truly is your friend and their honest feelings regarding who you are at heart. Queen of Earth flips between two different vacation getaways at a somewhat reclusive lakeside resort, where apparent good friends Virginia (called Ginny by those that earn her trust as a true friend) and Catherine offer up consolation regarding each other’s love life, with those two stays paralleled by juxtaposing their greatly differing levels of happiness during each week of solitude.
What makes Queen of Earth such a special character study though isn’t just the duality of personalities, but Catherine’s gradual descent into madness that in most other movies would just be chalked up as “She’s a crazy bitch”. Coming off of a breakup with her boyfriend while simultaneously juggling the emotional load of dealing with her father’s death, she is in a state of vulnerability which is a far cry from her usual self; a snarky holier than thou spoiled brat.
Obviously, that is a hefty amount of baggage for Elizabeth Moss to inject into a singular character, but the result is one of 2015’s most compelling performances, male or female. Success is earned simply because even at her ugliest and most unlikable (when all is well in her world she is the literal definition of Queen of Earth), during her depression and episodes of pure craziness, there is a layer of sympathy there for audiences to reach out and grab. Of course, Elizabeth Moss’ facial expressions and mannerisms just elude un-stability; she’s like a train wreck you’re not sure deserves good times or the very darkness consuming her.
That’s without even mentioning Ginny’s role (Katherine Waterston), supposedly a friend but is more interested in her own healthy relationship, albeit with a man that seemingly enjoys curiously prying into the negativity and corrosive hell that Catherine is enduring. It all makes for another layer of the narrative provoking even more stimulating conversation; is Catherine really a spoiled brat that has had everything positive in her existence handed to her on a silver platter, or is this guy a cruel jerk that loves reveling in the misery of others? Perhaps it’s both, which is what makes Queen of Earth so damn fascinating to watch unfold.
Psychological storytelling and praiseworthy performances aside, Perry also presents the film stylized as almost a 70s/80s horror film; there is a dreadfully unnerving score that heightens the ickiness of witnessing a bunch of horrible people do neurotically horrible things to one another. Even the opening credit movie title card visually resembles a B-movie scary flick. The cinematography employed also keeps tension high as it overly hones in on facial expressions during dialogue to claustrophobic levels, sometimes panning back and forth between characters in a single shot. Simply put, its superb filmmaking that truly strikes wonder into what is going on inside each head.
All positives aside, Queen of Earth is not the most exciting movie around, and can feel like a slog to watch for more impatient viewers. Even the most patient will be waiting for something, anything to happen besides numerous lengthy dialogue exchanges and countless scenes of Catherine staring off into the distance looking like a mentally unstable nutjob. That isn’t to say it has pacing issues, but rather that the pacing is built for a very niche audience more interested in artistic appreciation over an over-dramatized peer into depression and craziness.
For better or worse, Queen of Earth is also the kind of film that will require multiple viewings to wholly grasp its purpose. Expanding on that notion, a lot of what is written in this review are immediate takeaways without in-depth analysis, but I’m fully positive that there is so much more to these characters and events than what I have touched on, which is astounding considering how complex I have already articulated this movie is. Friendships, love, psychological breakdowns, depression, pettiness; it’s all here and more making for something that is definitely fascinating to watch once, and especially twice if Perry’s Roman Polanski inspired direction puts you in a trance.
However, those that do watch Queen of Earth even once will come away marveling its compelling performances and multi-layered characters. Surety a slow burn but rarely falls into boredom.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook