LFF 2015: Queen of Earth

Janz Anton-Iago

The fact that some of the greatest filmmakers of our time have essentially built careers on women going absolutely nuts on screen is worth mentioning since this might just be the turning point for Alex Ross Perry’s professional life. Perhaps it’s early days to declare this, but his latest work, the demented, deliriously savage Queen of Earth joins the long crazy conga of films featuring women on the verge of existential collapse, to which the likes of Bergman, Polanski, von Trier, Almodovar, Allen, Cassavetes and Aronofsky have all, one way or another, plucked nerves and flayed open the distraught female psyche, proving that while it’s all very hyper-emotional and distressing, there’s rarely anything as darkly cinematic as a total eclipse of the mind, body and soul.

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 Perry’s demented, deliriously savage Queen of Earth joins the long crazy conga of films featuring women on the verge of existential collapse, proving that while it’s all very hyper-emotional and distressing, there’s rarely anything as darkly cinematic as a total eclipse of the mind, body and soul.

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As schadenfreudian as that might sound, Perry magnificently channels these negative vibes into every frame of Queen of Earth, lending his scenes of supposed lakehouse idyll thrumming with sinister atmosphere, as we watch two close friends engage in a vicious cycle of cruelty and deep, unmitigated resentment during their week’s retreat. It’s both comically barbed and outrageously unsettling, with Perry allowing his sense of articulate, self-aware humour pepper his intrinsically nightmarish scenario. This is friendship-gone-sour played to the hilt, and while it doesn’t really go to bitch-slapping levels of hysteria, Perry goes for the quietly diabolical toxicity that exists between two privileged, well-to-do white women, unearthing their insecurities, selfishness and jealousies through dagger looks, patronising smiles and accusatory words that only fuels the hellfire brewing.

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It goes without saying that none of Perry’s characters are worth rooting for, so the audience are not compelled to take sides. Anyone familiar with the director’s work would recognise that the his predilection for depicting the neuroses of unpleasant people is in full effect here. Blonde Catherine, first glanced as mascara-smeared and drowning with grief, is blinded with self-importance, having lived a life of nepotism and being a daughter of a renowned artiste, while brunette Virginia is detached to a point of narcissism. The former is palpably suffering waves of depression, and the latter thirsts for a kind of smug vindication.

This whirlwind of contempt gathers momentum and ominous force through a series of broken flashbacks where we learn that the seeds of hate have long been buried. All the lip-smacking passive-aggression are captured through the lushly retro 16mm, filtering nervy Polanskian thriller with Bergmanesque chamber drama, wearing its influences on its fevered cinematic sleeve without falling into mere pastiche. But what’s ultimately most impressive here are the performances. Katherine Waterston conveys a kind of unforgiving arrogance that deeply unpleasant, but this is really Elisabeth Moss’ show through and through, showcasing depth of emotions and levels of tragic regression in Catherine. Seesawing between childish pettiness and self-imploding nihilism, Moss creates a spectacle of a woman at the precipice of sanity when all the comforts of class privilege has been torn down and security of relationships proved too swift, too fragile for this cruel, cruel world.

 

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