‘Queen of Earth’
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston
4 (out of 5) Globes
Alex Ross Perry’s “Queen of Earth” isn’t so much a psychological thriller as it is a psychological drama. And by “psychological” we mean that literally: It’s about someone — Elisabeth Moss’ Catherine — unraveling, but it’s more about the shambling neuroses of all of its characters, about crumbling friendships and about the strain of cohabitation. Catherine has decamped for a summer home currently occupied by Virginia (Katherine Waterston), a longtime friend sympathetic over her recent dumping, which comes on the heels of her father’s suicide. Catherine isn’t well and Virginia doesn’t know how to handle her, not when she goes off on weirdly long walks and especially not when she goes from a tear-caked mess, as seen in the opening shot, to a strained, manic perkiness that’s even more unnerving.
We might expect stuff to eventually hit the fan, and perhaps we’re surprised when it doesn’t. We have good reason to think it will. Perry borrows the language of Roman Polanski and Eurotrash thrillers from the ’70s. (The decaying rabbit dinner in Polanski’s “Repulsion” is given a vegetarian spin here as a never-eaten salad.) There are creeping, unmotivated zooms, a sickening air of unease, a persistent, haunting score that loves to scrape the nerves. But no violence, apart from the emotional kind, erupts, and everything, for the most part, stays realistic if also deeply unsettled — a constant state of anxiety that rattles the nerves even more because none of it is consummated. It’s a midnight movie that turns out to be a Rainer Werner Fassbinder chamber drama.
Much of “Queen of Earth” traces the intricacies of Catherine and Virginia’s delicate relationship. Sometimes it tosses in a monkey wrench. Their awkward living situation is periodically interrupted by Rich (Patrick Fugit), a smiling sadist neighbor who has charmed his way into Virginia’s graces but has little but contempt for Catherine, whom he heaps with aggression every time her friend is out of earshot. Apart from Moss — and collaborators like cinematographer Sean Price Williams and editor Robert Greene — Rich is the most obvious connection to Perry’s previous work, particularly “The Color Wheel” and last year’s “Listen Up Philip.” Those films were caustic comedies revolving around characters often one-upping each other when it comes to darkly funny (and highly quotable) cruelty.