Director/Writer: Alex Ross Perry | Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Patrick Fugit, Katherine Waterson, Kate Lyn Shiel | 90mins Drama Thriller US
One of America’s best loved indie directors takes a dramatic left turn with this entrancing thriller. He broke onto the scene with his low budget road trip comedy The Colour Wheel in 2011 and won over audiences with the wonderfully narcissistic Listen Up Philip, but Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of the Earth is a different fish entirely. Boasting yet another scenery-devouring central performance from Elisabeth Moss, QUEEN OF THE EARTH is a film of passive aggression, crumbling friendships and psychological trauma in an idyllic wooden cabin in the outskirts of New York.
We’re introduced to Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) in unforgiving close-up. Her boyfriend is breaking up with her. She’s in a bit of a mess. She wants to get away from it all, so decides to take a trip to her friend Jinny’s family cabin. We learn that the women have been friends for years but flashbacks to previous summers suggest it’s a relationship in free-fall decline.
It becomes apparent that neither Catherine nor Jinny have had such a difficult ride and, as blows are exchanged about their respective upbringings, a rotting passive aggressive atmosphere grows. When a local guy called Rich (Almost Famous’ Patrick Fugit, all grown up) is thrown into the mix things reach critical levels of toxicity. Nerves are shot; eggshells get trampled; Catherine soon loses her marbles.
The female ‘force-of-nature’ angle that Perry’s title suggests is never quite fully realized, but Moss has plenty of fun with it anyway. The Mad Men star gives a terrific central performance, stretching and contorting Catherine’s psyche into various degrees of mental disrepair. Katherine Waterston, hot on the heels of her Inherent Vice breakthrough, offers a fitting foil in the supporting role.
Fans of Listen Up Philip will be pleased to see Sean Price Williams back behind the camera and his lightweight grainy handheld photography is just as beautiful here, fitting surprisingly well into the psychological horror mold. The change of pace from Perry’s earlier outings might seem alarming and yet, with Mumblecore/gore head honcho Joe Swanberg among the producers; perhaps it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. Indeed, Queen of the Earth might seem a long way away from Jason Schwartzman’s troubled author and yet it does sort of fit in with the director’s fascination with narcissism in extremis. Whatever the case, it’s terrifically uncomfortable stuff and, for Perry’s catalogue, a finely navigated diversion. Rory O’Connor
ALEX ROSS PERRY SEASON | NOW AT MUBI | BERLINALE REVIEW 2015