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) 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, while Catherine and Virginia understand each other with punishing clarity, they’re not willing to see–or admit that they see–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, excruciating self-destruction.
Perry echoes this selective framing throughout the film with an editing style that leaves us in the dark about just what’s being witnessed: in one scene, Catherine’s misery turns violent when she shatters a coffee cup on the kitchen floor; after a solitary pause, she unexpectedly asks how much of this outburst has been seen. We discover that she’s speaking to an off-screen Virginia, but she could just have easily been talking to herself–or us. These unsettling shifts inject Queen of Earth’s drama with a pulsating undercurrent of uncertainty that feels more like shock therapy by the film’s conclusion.
But 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.