Melissa and I were privileged to be invited to a special screening and Q&A of Alex Ross Perry‘s fourth feature, QUEEN OF EARTH, a deeply unnerving psychological drama. The film traces the relationship between Catherine (Elisabeth Moss, MAD MEN) and Virginia (Katherine Waterston, INHERENT VICE), best friends who retreat to a lake house after Catherine’s father dies and her boyfriend leaves her. Desperately seeking rest and recovery, when Catherine arrives at the cabin, she’s overwhelmed with memories of time spent at that same house with her boyfriend the year before and finds herself unable to decompress. As Virginia begins spending increasing amounts of time with a local love interest, Rich (Patrick Fugit), what was once closeness between the two women pivots toward hostility and resentment, sending Catherine into a downward spiral of delusion and madness.
Moss gives one hell of a performance as her once cool and collected veneer cracks and ultimately completely falls to pieces. Mystery continually surrounds her mental motives as the story progresses, you both feel for her and fear her. Waterston is elegant in her oftentimes restrained bitterness and when she makes the decision to bite. Perry’s brilliant choice to use long takes combined with some beautifully down to earth writing, as well as cinematographer Sean Price Williams’ use of hand held close ups, (very much reminiscent of their collaboration on last year’s LISTEN UP PHILLIP) create an uneasy feeling from the opening shot to the final unsettling frame. I asked Perry to speak to the use of a very unique score, one that has throwback feel to it and does a perfect job of ramping up the disturbing factor of this movie. Working once again with composer Keegan DeWitt, the score was written in real time as they filmed over the course of two weeks. Hearing the the actual music in real time was something that assisted in the emotional desperation of both characters. Perry admittedly gives nod to Roman Polanski‘s use of food imagery in film, as well as an homage sequence directly grabbed from ROSEMARY’S BABY.
Once again, I was impressed at Perry’s ability to tell a story so complex in just 90 minutes. Flashbacks juxtaposed with quiet moments of sadness and/or madness from both our leading ladies, paint a broader picture. There is so much we don’t know and yet we’re never left with an unsatisfied feeling. QUEEN OF EARTH is a haunting film that will hover in your memory for some time to come.
QUEEN OF EARTH opens today.
Having already established himself as a fixture of indie filmmaking with IMPOPLEX (2009), THE COLOR WHEEL (2011), and LISTEN UP PHILIP (2014), writer-director Alex Ross Perry has assembled the perfect cast and crew to bring his latest creation to fruition. QUEEN OF EARTH marks yet another successful collaboration with, not only actress Elisabeth Moss, whose thrilling portrayal of a woman on the verge of breakdown is affecting in completely unexpected ways, but also with LISTEN UP PHILIP cinematographer Sean Price Williams, and composer Keegan DeWitt. Having recently signed on to direct Disney’s live-action WINNIE THE POOH and also currently adapting Don DeLilo‘s seminal novel, “The Names,” Perry is certainly a directorial talent to watch.