Berlinale: Queen of Earth

Queen of Earth
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston and Patrick Fugit

by Joanna Orland

Queen of Earth is a psychological thriller about a very complex female friendship. Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) and Virginia (Katherine Waterston) have been best friends for most of their lives. Last year Virginia (“don’t call her Ginny”) was in a dark place – Catherine wasn’t there for her. This year, Catherine is in a very dark place –  will Virginia be there?

Very naturalistic in its portrayal, their friendship is not an easy one.  Having grown up together, they have history, but do they have anything in common? There is envy, judgement, tears, laughter, love, a full range of emotions. After Catherine is dumped by her boyfriend and her father has committed suicide due to a battle with depression, Catherine feels abandoned and is losing her grip on reality. Her own mental health is in question as she’d always been dependent on these men in her life. Now she only has Virginia, who she believes doesn’t truly care for her in the same way.

Their friendship is tested through the good times and the bad. And the times certainly do get bad. Very bad. As they holiday in a lakeside cabin owned by Virginia’s parents, Catherine flashbacks to the previous year of Virginia’s struggle, while going through her own present day one. Abstract droning filled with tense tonality and a montage of beautiful dark imagery are intercut with extremely close shots of the actresses. The film is claustrophobic and maddening as a metaphor for Catherine’s own descent into madness. The friendship at the forefront is maddening as well. In a very long and tense scene, the two confide in each other, almost through two separate monologues – their disconnected connection never more prevalent. They criticize each other for their differences yet cling to each other for comfort. It’s frustrating and beautiful.

While director Alex Ross Perry strongly sets the tone and style of this film, it’s the two actresses who carry it. With many shots being framed as extremely close and focused on their faces, minimal expression is heightened. Waterston can convey her disdain for Catherine’s boyfriend in a mere smirk of her lip. Moss has a wider range of emotions on raw display, fully getting the audience on side, even if her character’s likability is a bit more questionable.

It’s not all about the women – Patrick Fugit as neighbour and love interest for Virginia is brilliant as Rich.  His role is to push Catherine over the edge, and he does so in the finest form possible.  Annoying enough to be convincingly hated but charming and humourous enough for the audience to forgive him.  When Catherine uses Rich as the object of all of her anger and issue transference, it is glorious.

This complex tale of female friendship is psychologically tense. Even more so, it has characters that are true to life once you can see past the thriller genre at play. The performances are minimal, naturalistic and outstanding.


Our interview with director Alex Ross Perry.



Leave a Reply