FILM REVIEW: QUEEN OF EARTH (2015)
Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Featuring Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit
Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth lets you know what you’re in for right out of the gate. In an uncomfortably tight close-up, Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is ditched by her boyfriend while still recovering from the death of her father. It’s a shattering sequence: flickering between denial, despair, self-loathing, and frustration Catherine repeatedly pleads that–above all else–she just wants to be left alone.
Despite this, she joins best friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston) for some R&R at her lakeside cottage, although it’s clear there’s a painful tension here, as well. Through a series of increasingly loaded conversations–and silences–we discover that Catherine and Virginia understand each other with punishing clarity but aren't willing to admit the truth about themselves. As Catherine’s withdrawal pushes Virginia towards a fling with neighbour Rich (Patrick Fugit), both women continue to turn a blind eye to Catherine’s slow and excruciating self-destruction.
Director Perry echoes this denial with an editing style that often leaves us in the dark about what’s going on. In one scene, Catherine’s misery turns violent when she shatters a coffee cup on the kitchen floor. We assume it's a private moment, but an off-screen voice reveals that someone has been watching all along. It's never quite clear who or what's been seen, and these unsettling shifts inject Queen of Earth's drama with a pulsating current of uncertainty that feels more like shock therapy by the film’s conclusion.
Instead of burning us out, the superb cast makes this discomfort captivating: Moss and Waterston grapple with a riveting, nuanced intensity and a lean script gives clues but leaves us with plenty of questions. Like this one: when we see someone in crisis, should we intervene? We’re given a double-answer: sure, sometimes it’s nice to be left alone, but doing nothing can be its own act of violence.