Queen of Earth is, ostensibly, a psychological drama/thriller about the deterioration of a longtime friendship. Could have fooled me. Catherine (Elizabeth Moss) is reeling from a double whammy of hardships in her life – her father, an artist, has just committed suicide, and in the film’s opening moments her boyfriend is breaking up with her. Mascara is smudged in thick black rings around her eyes. She looks like a clown, and wails like one too. Writer/director Alex Ross Perry is clearly inspired by, and paying homage to, films like Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and other psychological chamber dramas of the sort, but unfortunately Queen‘s central relationship feels hollow.
This deflates much of the tension Perry is struggling so hard to build. Queen of Earth is interesting and captivating formally, with the director opting for an almost innumerable amount of uncomfortable close-ups throughout the film’s 90 minutes, rightfully making the most of the outstanding performances from his two leads (the aforementioned Moss and Katherine Waterston). From these close-ups, to Keegan DeWitt’s creepy, constant, atonal music, to the passive-aggressive dialogue laced with a sharp bite – Perry is determined to make us feel Catherine’s trauma, depression, and the emotional stress that builds and builds as her relationship with her “best friend” frays more and more.
I put “best friend” in quotes because, although Perry would have us believe otherwise, the deteriorating central friendship of the film was never really a true friendship to begin with insofar as we see in the film. As Virginia (Waterston) accompanies Catherine at the vacation home to ostensibly help her recover from her recently experienced hardships their time together is inter cut intermittently with flashbacks to a year or so prior. All of these scenes feature Waterston and Moss flinging passive-aggressive – and then often simply just aggressive – dialogue at one another in front of bystanders. Indeed, Queen of Earth is primarily composed of such scenes. Virginia and Catherine never seem to have had a foundation for a real friendship at all, and the result is that the subsequent deterioration that the film chronicles rings false. The movie is certainly uncomfortable, but simply for its use of sound and close-ups, not for the swift erosion of its core relationship. It’s a shame, because Waterston and Moss are fantastic, and Queen is subsequently most compelling when they aren’t talking and fighting, but being totally silent, Perry’s camera right up in their faces.
But maybe that’s the whole point. Their constant bickering, courtesy of Perry’s off-kilter writing, results in neither Catherine or Virginia feeling like fully formed people, much less best friends. Neither seems capable of truly caring about anyone else. They repeatedly discuss productivity, alluding to occupations and careers, or a lack thereof. They are inert, self-absorbed, and often downright detestable. Their upper class lives, much like Queen of Earth as a whole, seem to have very little at stake.
★★½ out of 5