Queen of Earth (4 stars)

Queen of Earth

Gut-wrenching relationship drama from Alex Ross Perry, featuring a barnstorming Elisabeth Moss

While the influences on writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s fourth feature Queen of Earth may be writ large, his extraordinary film is far from a meaningless pastiche. For this story of two women dealing with the psychological fallout of grief and disloyalty, Perry draws on the styles and themes of Bergman, Polanski, Hitchcock and Allen to construct his own intense study of a faltering friendship.

The film opens and closes with uncomfortable sequences of Catherine (a barnstorming Elisabeth Moss) filmed, like most of the movie, in tight shots by cinematographer Sean Price Williams, his camera acting as both witness and confessor. The first is a claustrophobic close-up of her tear-stained face mid breakup from boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley), the last sees her laughing hysterically. This is, however, no redemption story. Ensconced in the isolated lakehouse of her friend Virginia (a brilliant Katherine Waterston) and struggling to get over both her relationship and the death of her artist father, Catherine entirely unravels.

With its intimate framing, jump cuts, eerie score and unsettling visual tableaus – Catherine and Virginia always seem at odds in their shared physical space – Queen of Earth plays like a horror. Yet, at its heart it is a devastating story of depression and its impact. Perry has written the fractured dynamic between these two women with sensitivity and brutal truth – it’s never less than authentic, whether in moments of companionable silence, or when shared grudges bubble to the surface.

It’s rare to see such a multilayered and less-than-perfect relationship between two adult women taking centre stage, particularly one in which the male characters (including Patrick Fugit as Virginia’s sometime lover) are relegated to collateral damage. That it is realised so beautifully, and has such an emotional impact, makes it a genuine, if gut-wrenching thrill.

Limited release from Fri 1 Jul.

Queen of Earth

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 29min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Alex Ross Perry
  • Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit
  • UK release: 1 July 2016

Catherine (Moss) visits the lakehouse of her friend Virginia (Waterston) and, in struggling to get over the end of a relationship and the death of her artist father, entirely unravels. Extraordinary, intense study of the faltering friendship between two women, with brilliant work from Waterston and a barnstorming…