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|
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