Note: Queen of Earth was not screened in-competition, but as a part of the ‘Forum’ programming sidebar of the Berlinale 2015.
Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth is equal parts fresh and disappointing, thankfully suggesting the best may be yet to come. Perry seems to have honed his craft since his 2011 debut, The Color Wheel. He is certainly more self-assured. The film opens with an excruciatingly claustrophobic Cassavetes-style close-up of a devastatingly teary-eyed Elisabeth Moss as Catherine, going through a heavy break-up shortly after the death of her father. Moss’s performance is bold and varied throughout, as is that of Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) as her best friend, Ginny. Together, the two go to the summer home of Ginny’s family, as a reprieve from city life. Unfortunately, it turns out things between them are no longer as they once were.
Perry slowly builds a brooding mood through uneasy camera work, soft focus, steady zooms, intimate long-takes, an unsettling score and careful sound design. The mystery of exactly what all this brooding is leading to keeps intrigue levels high for the first two-thirds of the film.
Queen of Earth is more mature than Perry’s previous effort, Listen Up, Philip – full of dialogue which came drenched in sometimes painfully unfunny irony. Here there is much more gravitas to the same type of language, and that Moss is this time in the lead is no coincidence. It’s a step-up visually as well, as there are at least three truly great shots to be found in its 90-minute runtime, highlighting an advanced understanding of interesting compositions and using spatial relationships between actors to symbolic and aesthetically pleasing ends. Similarly, there are at least three instances of exceptional editing highlighting similarities and contrasts between characters through their tactile interactions with different elements. One of the best examples of this is a moment of running water which cuts to soda being poured into a glass.
Finally, all the dread builds to a singular moment of surreal Rosemary’s Baby-inspired madness and fizzles out into a forgettable conclusion. There is a lot to love about Queen of Earth, but not quite enough to sustain it for the entirety of its duration. That said, whatever Alex Ross Perry makes next just might prove a masterpiece.
1 hour, 30 minutes
Drama, Psychological Thriller
Alex Ross Perry
Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley, Keith Poulson, Kate Lyn Sheil, and Craig Butta