Many films claim to be psychological thrillers but few achieve the creeping sense of dread and mental detachment that writer and director Alex Ross Perry manages with his simple slick and extremely unsettling movie Queen of Earth.
The plot is seemingly straightforward revolving around two friends who grew up together Catherine and Virginia, played by the superb pairing of Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, spending a week at Virginia’s family’s lake house.
Having spent time at this idyllic retreat a year previously when Catherine brought along her boyfriend now she has lost both him and her father a famous artist who she worked closely with and who formed a massive part of her life.
Emotionally distraught Catherine attempts to lean on her friend for support but the childhood chums have drifted apart and wounds from the past brought up on Catherine’s previous visit reopen gradually ripping them apart as the week progresses.
This disconnect fractures further as Catherine’s mental state seems to slip out of control helped along by the intrusion of Virginia’s neighbor and on/off boyfriend Rich (Patrick Fugit) who seemingly despises the new arrival.
Playing out the death of a friendship and one woman’s sanity Queen of Earth quietly captures mental and emotional breakdown brilliantly with each character pushing the other to the very edge of stability until one finally and frighteningly falls off.
As title cards display the day of Catherine’s stay from Saturday onwards the film jumps back to her visit a year earlier as characters remember events and conversations that pull out the ever expanding tapestry of threads to the two women’s deep and multifaceted relationship.
Mainly taking place inside the tranquil and well-kept house and outside in the beautiful and serine lake landscape the exterior environment is at total odds with the interior of Catherine and Virginia’s minds which are ragging turnouts of grief, pain, betrayal and anger barely contained behind the passive aggressive, bitter and cutting remarks each makes to the other.
Alex Ross Perry fully focuses all our attention on the main characters penning a crisp and cutting script that is at times hilarious and at others heartbreaking. Using close ups and a series of intimate conversations including monologues and duologues to place us inside their minds to help us truly understand what is happening making the slow decay of the close bond and Catherine’s sanity all the more powerful and poignant.
Central to the entire film are the performances which are stunning on both sides. Katherine Waterston wonderfully brings out all the complexity and conflict that Virginia has on seeing her friend going through such a tough time and her inability to simply support her and forget the pain of the past makes her all the more human and interesting.
Elisabeth Moss embraces a very challenging role with aplomb making sure the troubled and damaged Catherine never becomes a crying crazy cliché. Her subtle shift from heartache to despair to something far darker is expertly handled and her tragic spiral out of control is both riveting and unbearable to watch.
A psychological thriller that lays its characters minds bare for all to see and worth watching for the performances alone Queen of Earth is a difficult film dealing with a very real portrayal of loss and depression but one that most definitely rewards its watcher as well as truly disturbing them too.