Queen of Earth is not an easy movie to watch. Then again, easy to watch is certainly not Radnor-born-and-raised director Alex Ross Perry's modus operandi. In his short yet prolific career, Perry has made a point of serving up movies that don't go down easy. And we're the better for it.
It has been a terrible year for Catherine (Elisabeth Moss, who seems to be somewhat of a muse for Perry, after also starring in 2014's Listen Up Philip - although her part here is considerably better). Her father, a famous artist with whom she worked, has died, possibly from suicide. Her boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) has dumped her for another woman. She's jobless, aimless, boyfriendless.
So she decamps to the lake house of her best friend, Ginny (Katherine Waterston, daughter of Sam), for a little R&R. But being in the lake house brings Catherine back to a year before, when she spent a tense vacation with Ginny and James. She descends deeper and deeper into a breakdown, as Ginny continues to pull away and spend time with her neighbor, Rich (Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit).
That time last year, Ginny was the traumatized mess, and Catherine was happy. Now, that is reversed. Instead of supporting each other, the women are filled with bitterness and distance.
Queen of Earth feels like a horror movie. A pall of dread hangs over the feature, even as it is shot in a sun-dappled haze. But the score (by Keegan DeWitt) is anxious, and camera angles askew. Yet, there are no demons or devils in Queen of Earth, or at least not tangible ones. Instead, they are a part of Catherine as, over the week she spends with Ginny, she slowly loses her mind.
Moss and Waterston are incredible, and even though Queen of Earth is purposefully not a readily digestible film, they keep it intensely interesting. Moss begins Queen of Earth in close-up, eye shadow askew as if she has two black eyes. James is dumping her, but we don't see him, we only see her as she goes from anger to sadness, the pain she's feeling so visible on her face.
Waterston seems to constantly hover around her friend. But is it out of concern, or for more nefarious reasons?
The most arresting scene is a pair of monologues as Catherine and Ginny try to fix the broken bonds of their friendship by relaying stories of failed relationships. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams shoots them in profile, switches focus from one to the other. It's a perfect example of the inherent power of the two actors, conveying differences with subtle facial movements and voice inflection.
Ginny concludes their monologues with a statement that seems to seal Catherine's fate: "You can get out of someone else's cycle, but you can't get out of your own."
Perry's movie may not be easy to watch, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't.
Directed by Alex Ross Perry. With Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley, Kate Lyn Sheil. Distributed by IFC Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating.
Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.EndText