The three leads in Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth don’t speak or act like human beings. It’s almost like they are aliens, disguised as humans, taking a stab at our inherent arrogance and need to assert ourselves over others by discrediting their character. They understand the gist of shit-talking but punctuate their insults with inappropriate or out-dated terminology. I found this jarring and distracting at first, but as the film progressed and became increasingly more bizarre, it became just a minor footnote in an odyssey of complete fucking insanity.
Elisabeth Moss plays Catherine, a “struggling” artist working for her father, who, after being dumped by her boyfriend, is in the throws of a complete mental breakdown. She visits her best friend and fellow trust-fund baby Virginia (Katherine Waterston from Inherent Vice) at a cabin they vacation at every year. Virginia is anything but sympathetic to Catherine’s troubles, because she’s more interested in the cute rich boy next door aptly named Rich (Patrick Fugit from Almost Famous). As Catherine’s mental state and paranoia worsens, Virginia just seems merely annoyed while Rich goes out of his way to taunt her, making note of how much of a “spoiled brat” she is. In truth, all three are privileged assholes who have never had to work for anything in their lives, so it’s rather humorous that’s the way they would choose to cut each other down.
Queen of Earth is a character study constructed like a grind house horror flick from the early 1970s. The score, cinematography and even pacing suggest a slasher picture, but it’s really just about Catherine’s mental breakdown. This is an interesting and mostly effective technique in that makes us see events in the kind of manic, heightened manner that Catherine herself would view them. It’s a somewhat ineffective technique in that it creates wholly unrealistic characters that are difficult to identify with, therefore leaving you cold. Despite the unsympathetic characters, the performances are all fantastic. Catherine and Virginia are given multi-layered and revealing monologues to which they both completely excel, and Patrick Fugit is unnervingly realistic as that condescending prick everyone has encountered. The real stand-out is Elisabeth Moss, in the kind of riveting can’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-her performance that independent film festival acting awards were created for.
Queen of Earth is an extremely difficult watch, that will make your face sore from cringing. It’s impeccably shot and acted, and beautifully illustrates how a mental breakdown is far scarier than any knife-wielding psycho or furry goat monster. However, because it keeps it’s characters at such a clinical far reach, it’s a film that is much easier to admire than love. I have no desire to put myself through the agony of viewing this movie again. Watch at your own risk. Grade: B+