Queen of Earth

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Alex Ross Perry

Starring

Elisabeth Moss Katherine Waterston Patrick Fugit

Anticipation.

Excited for this, but why did we have to wait so damn long?

Enjoyment.

Waterston and Moss are simply incredible.

In Retrospect.

A lifetime pass for Perry – anything he makes from here on in will be of interest.

American writer/director Alex Ross Perry returns with this superlative housebound psychodrama.

Alex Ross Perry’s immaculate, horridly intense psychodrama Queen of Earth is likely to stand tall as one of 2016’s finest – even though it received its world premiere way, way back in the early months of 2015. He is a filmmaker who is nostalgic for a type of paranoia-themed cinema which made a brief, nasty appearance in the late ’60s and early ’70s. These were films in which unhinged and intelligent people talk in rooms and their words cause the mood to oscillate wildly between eerie calm and barely concealed rage. Perry is a master of the combative turns of phrase and he’s someone who would never need his characters to use physical weapons to cause harm. He murders with monologues.

A superlative script is one thing, but Queen of Earth soars on the back of two scintillating central performances from Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. Moss’ Catherine could be seen as an extension of her role in Perry’s previous film, Listen Up Philip, where she played a good natured doormat who ends up almost cherishing her independence from an arrogant literary dingus. Here, though, she’s haplessly mired in a period of deep existential contemplation which verges on mania. A romantic break-up and a death in the family has hit her extremely hard, and she has opted to hole up in the remote, lakeside abode of semi-estranged pal Virginia (Waterston). While the muscles on her face make it appear like she’s smiling, the reality could not be further from it.

Virginia sees that Catherine is extremely fragile, but understands that she needs somewhere to convalesce. But cliches of needing “me time” or the occasional heart-to-heart conversation are thrown out in favour of a situation driven by instinct and confusion. What’s brilliant is that Perry never clearly articulates a power structure between the pair, and so there’s a constant, bitter battle for any kind of moral dominance. But even the cattiness is short lived as the film evolves into something more akin to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona or Robert Altman’s 3 Women, where the characters appear to swap traits, motives and even identities.

What’s fascinating about Queen of Earth is that it takes material which appears fairly standard issue, and casually blindsides at every little turn. Yet it never comes across as petty revisionism for the sake if it – by considering the conventions of this kind of dramatic stand-off, Perry actually makes the film feel more realistic, even as the characters begin to skirt the boarders of their own sanity. A talky, mid-point interlude is utterly magical, and creepy – an ode to the lost art of actors not merely learning their lines, but understanding them too.

Published 30 Jun 2016

Tags: Elizabeth Moss

Anticipation.

Excited for this, but why did we have to wait so damn long?

Enjoyment.

Waterston and Moss are simply incredible.

In Retrospect.

A lifetime pass for Perry – anything he makes from here on in will be of interest.

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