Queen of Earth (2015)
Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Alex Ross Perry has managed to make movies that totally different in genre & tone from each other, which is quite an accomplishment. I don’t think you could say he sticks with one format and does it over and over again. Thematically and regarding his characters, there are some connections, but overall each movie feels very separate and new from the previous one. Queen of Earth is Perry’s attempt at psychological horror, and he ends up doing an outstanding job. I’m not sure I fully understood what was happening by the end, I have some ideas, but he can create a rising paranoia atmosphere and tension. We’re in the head of the protagonist, and we experience her debilitating mental collapse.
The film opens with Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) being dumped by her boyfriend shortly after her famous artist father has killed himself. The whole scene is shot as a close-up on Catherine’s face with the boyfriend off-screen somewhere. Her hair is disheveled, her eyes are framed with black bags as her mascara runs. Catherine is broken, and this is the final moment that does her in. We then cut to her arrival at Ginny’s (Katherine Waterston) cabin. This lakehouse retreat was planned a year in advance, and Catherine insists on coming despite her circumstances. Things get off to a rough start and just keep getting worse. Catherine becomes reclusive and experiences wild mood swings from mania to depression.
The film’s mystery is unraveling Catherine and Ginny’s relationship with flashbacks to the previous year’s retreat. We see how co-dependent Catherine was on her boyfriend, who Ginny didn’t know was coming last year. The conflict between these friends was already bubbling over during that visit, with Ginny showing jealousy over having to share her friend with this interloper. The tables are flipped in the recent trip where Ginny begins cavorting neighbor Rich (Patrick Fugit). This manages to recreate what happened last year but with Catherine on the isolated receiving end.
The friendship between Catherine and Ginny is strangely brutal. They speak to each other in the harshest truths, but it doesn’t read as a healthy relationship. There’s a subconscious desire to see how far they can go in hurting the other person. That leaves us wondering what, if anything, of this friendship, will remain by the end of the visit. We learn that Catherine was an artist but did paperwork for her famous, more accomplished father. It’s clear Ginny sees this as suppression of her friend’s extraordinary talent and constantly goes at her with this knowledge. Rich also is aware of Catherine’s father and sees her as a stuck-up brat raised in privilege.
Ginny begins her poking with the intent to flip the tables and make Catherine understand what she felt like last year. By the third act, Ginny seems to be stunned by how psychologically broken; Catherine realizes she has taken this too far. Catherine is in a dark hole of depression, and all Ginny has done is helped her dig further into it. Perry keeps us wondering just how far gone Catherine is, especially with the brooding soundtrack that evokes the sense of a growing evil presence. At one point, Catherine has helped a drunk trespasser and laughs, remarking, “I could kill you, and no one would know.” This leaves the audience trying to surmise just what this woman is capable of. There is never a moment of bloody violence, but every scene feels like she’s right on the edge of lashing out.
I think the lack of a more cohesive plot left me feeling a bit underwhelmed by Queen of Earth. I love the rich atmosphere building, but I think it might have veered a little too deeply into psychological territory. There are moments where Catherine is hallucinating, but the movie becomes so jumbled I was never sure if she was really in conversation with a person or if they were figments of her imagination. Done right, that would have been a perfect addition to the movie, but it just adds to the confusion in many moments here. I would be up for seeing Alex Ross Perry tackle another horror film. He certainly has a talent for coating the production in a veneer of dread, which is what good horror needs.