Saturday, 2 July 2016

Queen Of Earth - Sean Derbyshire

The film Queen of Earth is a haunting representation of a woman’s descent into the depths of depression, and how her despair affects her relationship with her best friend within the isolation of a lakeside house. The film is directed by Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Phillip) and was released February 7th 2015 at the Berlin International Film Festival. The movie stars Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men; Listen Up Phillip) as Catherine, a woman suffering the tragic loss of her artist father as well as a failed relationship with her boyfriend, and Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice; Steve Jobs) as her friend Virginia, trying to help her cope with her loss at an isolated lake house owned by Virginia’s family. It follows Catherine’s descent into a deep depression and the inevitable strain exerted on their relationship.
Thematically, this film beautifully captures the feeling of psychological fragility and the suspense and tension felt by those experiencing it from the outside; the film very cleverly flirts with the psychological horror genre. Keegan DeWitt’s haunting score builds tension gradually throughout the movie and creates a fantastic chronology, with wistful tunes implying hope more frequent in the early scenes, being replaced by harsh chords and creepy combinations of vocals and keyboards. These are expertly punctuated by periods with no music where each sound harshly cuts the silence, indicating the delicateness of Catherine’s psyche

The writing of the film is very much a mixed bag. The story is written in such a way that, for at least the first act, the two friends do not feel like friends at all. In almost every scene, one woman says to the other ‘please don’t…’ or ‘can you please not…’ and it feels as though neither is happy that the other is there. Where there should be empathy and understanding, I feel only resentment and irritation. While it is true that in real life friendship is not always sunshine and rainbows and endless renditions of ‘You’ve got a friend in me,’ the film does reach a point where one questions how these two can actually be so close when they don’t appear to like each other very much.

The actual script, however, is incredibly powerful. Some of the monologues spoken by Moss’s Catherine truly illustrate her emotional wounds and the audience can see and feel her psychological deterioration in a very visceral way that the spoken word is rarely able to achieve. One particularly chilling example of this is seen when Catherine tells a stranger ‘I could kill you right now and no one would even know’ and chuckles, leaving it to the audience to wonder how damaged she really is, and what that could mean for those around her.
Ross Perry’s direction is brilliant, from his use of cinematography to emulate the psychological states of the characters, to his use of the smallest objects and details to represent the effects of the passage of time. The camerawork uses mostly close up shots, giving complete focus to the smallest details and reactions of each character. On occasion, it is shaky and slow to focus to demonstrate Catherine’s emotional fragility, with slow zooms used to show an impaired ability to adapt and accept one’s surroundings and situation. His use of a gradually decaying salad in Catherine’s room to symbolise her mental decline is inspired.

The performances in this film are, in a word, outstanding and while the script does not lend much to a believable chemistry in the earlier scenes in the film, it is the performances of the two lead actresses that allow us to become invested in their relationship, and genuinely feel their growing sadness. Elizabeth Moss is mesmerising as Catherine, presenting to us a truly damaged woman and breaking our hearts with her vulnerability. Katherine Waterston’s fantastic portrayal of Virginia allows us to see the outward effects of a person’s depression, and the fear, uncertainty and hopelessness that those closest would experience.

This film is a study in the art of tension. While the narrative does lack somewhat in its fluidity, the direction, music and, predominantly, the incredible performances, create a chilling and enthralling piece of art that truly demonstrates the psychological fragility and collateral effects of a person suffering from depression. ‘Queen of Earth’ is a beautiful film.
Reviewed by Sean Derbyshire

Thanks Sean for another great film review. Be sure to drop him an e-mail if you like his work here.

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