Director: Alex Ross Perry (Impolex, The Color Wheel, Listen Up Phillip)
Writer: Alex Ross Perry
Producers: Elisabeth Moss, Alex Ross Perry, Adam Piotrowicz, Joe Swanberg
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 90 min.
My original posting of this review can be found HERE
Pretend for a moment “Persona” doesn’t exist. This is the lesbian “The Master”.
Am ambivalent about vouching for Queen of Earth as Alex Ross Perry’s fourth and best film, especially after last year’s crackerjack Listen Up Philip — but holy crap, what a piece of work this is, resplendent, euphoric, and surprisingly complete. Does that mean all its ends are tied up? Not exactly. I’ve seen Queen of Earth a grand total of about 2.5 times now and I still can’t figure it out. But don’t go mad — it’s by design. And when it comes to style, Perry alongside cinematographer Sean Price Williams and composer Keegan DeWitt (both “Philip” alumni) keep the irrational tension keen-edged throughout the course of its rigid 90-minute running time.
Elisabeth Moss, reteaming for her second tour with Perry, delivers the so far apex performance of her big-screen career, channeling the passive, starry-eyed minx she so acutely portrayed on “Mad Men” into a woman on the last-gasp verge of a full-blown nervous breakdown. As Catherine, an insomniac wreck since the one-two of her artist father’s suicide and subsequent romantic fallout with boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley), Moss is fearless and terrific, especially in many of the film’s lengthy closeup shots which ask her to do an expressive lot with little.
Right up there with her is Katherine Waterston as Ginny, a trust-fund kid who welcomes Catherine to vacation at her parents’ New York lake house. The past of Catherine and Ginny’s friendship (or something more) is nondescript, but writer-director Perry has a monster’s ball mirroring flashbacks from the summer before with the conflict of the current one.
Like Listen Up Philip, Queen of Earth has an eclectic range of influences, here the artier horror of Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water, Repulsion), David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet), and Bergman while still carrying over “Philip’s” class clash of Noah Baumbach, Whit Stillman and Woody Allen. And yet Queen of Earth, like Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy from last winter, is above all the strident vision of an incoming auteur, lyrical as it is bizarre if you’re willing to look close enough.
I have a theory that Perry, a known feline aficionado, based the perceptive dynamic between Moss and Waterston (the spitfire should-be Oscar nominee for her cagey dream girl in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice) on those of cats guarding territory — wherever one is, the other isn’t lurking far behind. Queen of Earth is a delicious provocation that’s certainly a must for anyone reading this, a mid-August rush of Lars von Trier calamity spiced with Harmony Korine pop conviction, that also amplifies as one of the most multifaceted depictions of depression in a hot minute. It deserves to be remembered as one of 2015’s standout films. Though by then, it might already be too late.