queen_of_earth_3Year: 2015
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Writer(s): Alex Ross Perry
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
16mm, Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: Two women who grew up together discover they have drifted apart when they retreat to a lake house together. (Source)

Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth is an exercise in true terror, a tale about the mental prisons we create for ourselves and those that we drag down with us in our time of need. Unfolding like a stripped-down version of Bergman’s Persona, this portrait of psychological deterioration is a haunting look at the fragility of the human mind and one of the best non-supernatural horror films we’ve seen for some time. Boasting immersive performances from Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, Perry’s devastatingly funny film is one that’ll grab you right from the very start and won’t let up until the hypnotic, bitter end.

After recently losing her late father and breaking up with her boyfriend, Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is understandably a mess. That’s when her childhood friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston) decides to take Catherine up to her family’s secluded vacation home for a week-long, therapeutic escape from both of their problems. Once there, tensions arise between the two as recollections of their retreat a year prior reveal unhealed wounds which only complicate things for the worse. As Catherine teeters on the brink of insanity, her relationship with Virginia turns abusive, proving all together that hell really is other people.

Capturing the spiraling nature of his heroines, Perry’s moody immersion boasts unobtrusive technical skill. From long, uncut tirades and conversations, surreal 16mm photography and clever visual metaphors which inhabit the world around his characters (a wilting salad provides nice context), this spiral of psychological manifestations and inescapable self-destructive behavior so visually rich, that we never want to look away.

queen_of_earth_1Obvious stylistic choices aside, Perry’s examination of depression, dominance, identity and perception is above all, a fierce performance piece for his actors and characters. The plot is very sparse and vague, allowing just the right amount of foundation for Perry’s characters to really come alive and control what we’re seeing on screen. From their daily routine, which mostly consists of passing blame, and the clever, meta motif of an in-progress portrait, Perry’s focus is always on his performers and the way they render the story’s abstract themes with absolute conviction. As the film progressively takes a turn for the surreal and impressionistic, it’s the performances that pull us in deeper without respite.

It goes without saying then, that Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston are both a knockout. Moss is fierce, yet her power still feels like it comes from a very vulnerable place. She’s completely committed (no pun intended) and truly seems to believe in her character’s wildly absurd delusions. As she uncontrollably spirals, she walks a tightrope of insanity and sinister glee. As Virginia, Katherine Waterston is a worthy counterpart to Moss, playing her role more like an anchor that’s tested at every turn. She’s the strength to Moss’ insanity, but still has a dimension that unravels in different ways. Together, Moss and Waterston are a powerful force of nature – their chemistry and tension are palpable.

Queen of Earth is the sly depression comedy you never knew you wanted. Exploring who we are when all the cards are down and what happens when other people see the worst of us, Perry’s eye for character, performance and tone is one that’s on a level of its own. Depression isn’t funny, but in a weird way the film explores the lunacy and pitfalls of our frailty in a way in which laughter is the only fitting defense.