Elisabeth Moss as Catherine in Queen of Earth (Sean Price Williams/Her Majesty September LLC)
Elisabeth Moss has the type of face rarely seen in movies, and Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth makes the most of the “Mad Men” performer’s unique features. There always seems to be something off-kilter yet fascinating about the actress and her expressions, which Perry exploits to nice effect to demonstrate how her character in the film loses touch with reality as she grapples with deep mental illness after a family tragedy.
Moss plays Catherine, the daughter of a renowned artist who committed suicide after it was discovered that he committed numerous acts of fraud. She retreats to the lake house owned by her closest friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston, the daughter of “Law & Order” actor Sam who recently triumphed in a supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice), where the two dissect their fraught relationship as Catherine sinks deeper into mental illness. The friendship is further complicated by the presence of Virginia’s boyfriend, Rich (Patrick Fugit, unrecognizable from his role as the callow kid journalist in Almost Famous).
Perry films Moss and Waterston almost entirely in close-up, which gives the story an intimate feel as the characters pour out their feelings in artfully-crafted speeches. Despite their lifelong friendship, both Virginia and Catherine seem to treat the other as if she is spoiled and utterly privileged, and Queen of Earth does suggest that both are right. Still, even if Virginia may have had a far easier life than most people, she feels more grounded and certainly far more sane. Catherine may be the juicier role, considering Moss gets to descend into mascara-stained madness, but Virginia is the far more sympathetic figure. Waterston however, does get her share of moments to shine, including a great one when she covers a knife almost instinctively to keep Catherine from going too mad. Still, of the three main actors, Fugit may give the best performance as a patient man who finally realizes his tolerance has its limits.
Queen of Earth feels reminiscent of arthouse cinema from the ’70s. There is a touch of Robert Altman’s 3 Women, with its slightly surreal quality as it explores the characters’ emotional truths. There is, also, a quality reminiscent of horror films, particularly the score, which constantly portends shocking or disturbing events. This is no film where a slasher will appear to terrorize the characters, though; any danger comes solely from the characters’ minds, which makes it no less frightening.
Queen of Earth
Now in theaters
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