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Queen of Earth is a psychological drama that sees indie director Alex Ross Perry and actress Elisabeth Moss reunite after their collaboration on Listen Up Philip. It is a movie that has been praised by critics, having a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes but audiences have been much more divided about, mustering a 6.5 on IMDB.
Catherine (Moss) has been dumped by her boyfriend (Kentucker Audley) after her father’s death and goes to spend the week at her best friend’s, Virginia’s, ‘Ginny’ (Katherine Waterson) lake house. Yet their relationship has been fractured from a visit the year before and the old tensions start to bubble up again as Catherine succumbs to madness.
Queen of Earth is first and foremost Moss’ movie, she gives a terrific performance as Catherine. Moss’ performance starts with getting dumped and the stress it causes, ending with a bitter speech filled with bile. As the movie progresses we learn more about Catherine who is a talented artist but lives in the shadow of her father and inherited his mental health condition. Moss was surrounded by a strong supporting cast – Waterson complicated Moss as a woman with her own demons and shifts from caring friend to being hostile and confrontational, particularly toward Catherine’s boyfriend. Waterson’s Ginny is much more of an enigma than Catherine. Their friendship and the strain in their relationship was made authentic by these two. The main two actors, Audley as James and Patrick Fugit as Rich, the partners of the women were solid in their roles as the destructive men in the women’s lives.
Perry used lots of long takes, allowing his actors to perform uninterrupted. There are great long stretches of dialogue where the cameras moves subtly as it changes focus. There are some great moments like the opening speech. Charitably this approach could be described as being like a stage play, focusing on elaborate proses as the characters talk about their pasts and their relationship. Queen of Earth has a loose narrative, shifting back and forth from the present to the past in the first third. The movie itself was unsure what its story was – there were themes about the women’s relationships with each other, the impact of men on their friendship and Catherine’s mental state, but there was little to grab on to.
Perry also gives Queen of Earth a dream like quality. Many scenes that were filmed by the lake and woods were shot with a certain sheen: they are sundrenched as light flows through the trees or bounces off the water, there is lens flare as characters walk through the woods and colors are particularly pronounced like the orange of sunset and the green leaves of the trees. Perry combines this with an eerie score by Keegan DeWitt, filled with high pitch scores and the high notes from the piano. All of this is aimed to be a reflection on Catherine’s damaged psyche and her altered scene of reality.
Queen of Earth is a showcase for some excellent performances, particularly from Moss and it is a lovely looking movie because of its scenery, but it suffers from a lack of story and no payoff.