“One of the most mesmerizing and haunting films of the year”

by Steve Pulaski

Queen of Earth sets its unsettling tone right from the get-go, by opening on a static shot of Catherine (Elisabeth Moss), whose face is soaked from her own tears with makeup smeared all around her eyes. She’s in the middle of arguing with her boyfriend, who confirms he has been seeing someone else, and he’s delivering this news to her shortly after her father committed suicide. After arguing back and forth for about two minutes, he takes off, Catherine’s sitting alone with tears coating her face, and director Alex Ross Perry has Queen of Earth flash over her face in pink, cursive lettering, mimicking the style of film title cards from decades gone past.

The film then focuses on Catherine staying with her best friend Virginia (“Ginny”), played by Katherine Waterston, at Virginia’s beach house, as she does every year. Last year, Catherine came with her boyfriend and a rather clear mind, thanks to a cushy job as her artist father’s assistant. Now, she is without a job and without the anchor of her boyfriend. Catherine was so used to being codependent on both her father and her boyfriend; one can tell just from the opening scene that she always put her needs in the back of her mind to attend to her boyfriend’s and, as her father’s assistant, had to do the same thing on a daily basis. Now, Catherine is left with her own vices, of which she can’t remember being the sole burden. She’s hostile to Virginia and Virginia’s new sorta-boyfriend Rich (Patrick Fugit), who shows up uninvited on numerous occasions to, what Catherine thinks, provoke her, and spends most of her days either lying in bed, being passive aggressive to everyone, or , worst of all, going into an emotional tizzy with unexpected consequences for everyone around her.

Queen of Earth
Written & Directed by
Alex Ross Perry
Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit
Release Date
26 August 2015
Steve’s Grade: A

If the comedic masterpiece The Color Wheel failed to do it and Listen Up Philip didn’t strike a chord significant enough, Queen of Earth should solidify Alex Ross Perry as one of the most talented American filmmakers of our time. His films, at their core, are comedies, even this one, as dark as it gets at times, but his approach and moods are what make them different. Consider some of the conversations Catherine and Virginia have about their exes, in addition to some of the flashback scenes of Catherine and Virginia’s vacations from years ago – both can become quite comedic, even if they are heavily built on monologues. The difference with this film is that Perry interjects copious amounts of tension into Queen of Earth, and it’s tension that you could cut with a knife.

The funny thing is, Perry doesn’t capitalize on any effects here that the tension could build to: no cheapshots, no reveals, no jumpscares, and nothing of blatant conventionality. He allows the characters to operate in their own spheres with their own ideas and it’s when we see these spheres clash that the tension begins to surface, in addition to some beautifully low-key piano music composed by Keegan DeWitt. This is a film with the plot and character structure of a drama but the cinematography, pace, and tension of a horror film.

Catherine Moss deserves an Oscar for her completely electrifying performance as somebody so mentally unstable that she herself can barely stand up in some scenes. Moss’s facial expressions, long stares into nowhere, and sporadic emotional tirades that are defined solely by the quiver in her voice and the position of her eyebrows are absolutely mesmerizing and the work of a true character actress. Alongside her is Waterston, who has an equally challenging role, as the reciprocal of Moss’s character’s often hurtful attacks and accusations. Waterston has to respond to Moss’s viciousness in a believable way and she handles the task nicely, especially given her often thankless position in this film.

At the end of it all, however, in its examination of depression and erratic behavior stemming from depression, Queen of Earth also shows the horrors of codependency and the result of spending so much time investing in others that you forget to take care of yourself. At times, Catherine isn’t as depressed as she seems, but so hopelessly lost and incapable of expressing her emotions. That winds up being the scariest thing of all, beyond any scenario of jumpscare, simply because what’s going on inside your mind is your own business and the incapability of expressing it to others leaves you helpless and crying (literally) for some sort of guidance. For Perry to do this largely without voiceovers or long-winded monologues once again shows his talent as a writer/director. Queen of Earth looks at the horrors of the human condition beautifully and, in addition to all the tension, atmospheric dread, and ominous music Perry throws in the film, winds up being one of the most mesmerizing and haunting films of the year.