Audiences introduced to Main Line-raised Alex Ross Perry by the acid literary comedy Listen Up Philip may find themselves overwhelmed by its successor, a claustrophobic chamber drama in which Elisabeth Moss pitches into mental breakdown. Although it evokes evanescent predecessors from Polanskis Repulsion to Altmans Images, Queen of Earth is more grounded in the mundane micro-aggressions that eat away at the fragile remnants of Moss mind.
Queen is entirely set in a lakeside cabin owned by Virginia (Katherine Waterston) or rather her family, since the inheritance of privilege is very much at issue here. Catherine (Moss) is a would-be fine artist whos lived her entire life in her painter fathers shadow, managing his affairs for a living instead of striking out on her own. After his death, and after shes unceremoniously dumped by boyfriend Kentucker Audley, she spirals, beginning as a mascara-smeared mess and heading downward from there.
Perry shifts backward and forward in time, toggling from Catherines current emotional black hole to her confident, apparently with-it past self, whom Virginia ironically envies for seeming to have it all. Its a vivid, sometimes startling, reminder of how close we or at least some of us are to losing control at any moment, propped up by external factors rather than supported from within.
At times, Queen of Earth strains for effect, especially when it expands beyond the malign electricity of the Moss-Waterston dynamic. That everyone who comes into their orbit behaves like a minor-key monster pushes the movie from misanthropy into mere cynicism, although it does set up one of the movies best exchanges: Sorry, Im not good with faces or names. So you mean, like, people? The movie wont restore your faith in humanity, but it might make you think that, no matter how bad people are, theyre not that bad.
City Paper grade: B+