Dir: Alex Ross Perry (2015)
Last year’s Listen Up Philip was a film which certainly divided; A talky, complicated study in the life of an abrasive author and his destructive narcism which was as funny as it was bitter. With Queen of Earth writer/director Alex Ross Perry refocuses his influences through Ingmar Bergman’s sensibility, Roman Polanski‘s claustrophobia and Brian De Palma’s knack for personal chills as we head to an upstate New York summer home with a couple of women on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Catherine (Elizabeth Moss, utterly brilliant) has just been dumped by her boyfriend in the wake of her father’s death. Virginia (Katherine Waterston, equally brilliant), a somewhat self-proclaimed lay about aristocrat, takes in her friend for a week of lake side lounging and before long it soon becomes clear that their strained friendship and the remote setting could be paving the way for a rather upsetting few days.
Through flashback and a rather rigid day by day structure we’re also privy to last years’ holiday where the relationship between the women feels perfectly reversed; Catherine, happy and flaunting her new boyfriend and Virginia snapping like a child at every sideways glance. These flashback are perfectly pitched and edited adding depth and shadows to Queen of Earth which may not have been as detailed a picture without them. This time around, as Catherine’s self exiled breakdown becomes more and more intense, it’s the arrival of Virginia’s “prying” neighbour (Patrick Fugit) which is the symbolic wedge between the two as jealously, regret and ideas of depression are laid on the table for all to see.
Waterston and Moss are perfectly cast and Perry knows it, utilising some gorgeous unbroken close-ups, showing every twitch, tear and doubt of the actresses in the biggest frame possible. Moss simply kills it as Catherine, pirouetting between a cruel lost child and a cutting angry depressive with terrifying ease. While Waterston isn’t as immediately impressive it soon becomes obvious that she is playing another instrument altogether, as cold and challenging as Moss, but with completely different sound.
As Perry draws pushes up the tension in the films final 20 minutes with mysterious visitors, phantom phone calls and ominous canoe trips, it’s his off kilter words still hurt the most. Especially when delivered through two of the finest performances of the year. Queen of Earth is a deeply unsettling and gripping piece of cinema; It could easily be dismissed as the Ivy league Persona or a Repulsion for trust fund babies but the film is beautifully constructed and expertly played no matter what it is.