Two girls in a cabin. 

Queen of Earth takes its cues from 70s psycho-horror films, with nods to Roman Polanski and Ingmar Bergman. It’s a disorienting look at a disintegrating psyche, a micro-budget chamber drama and a somewhat searing comedy. Queen of Earth is written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, who made the Sundance hit Listen Up Phillip and The Color WheelQueen of Earth stars Emmy nominee Elisabeth Moss, Inherent Vice star Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit (Gone Girl) and Kentucker Audley (V/H/S).

Catherine is reeling from the death of her famous artist father and being dumped by her cheating boyfriend James (Audley). Her best friend Virginia (Waterston) brings her up to a secluded family cabin to recover. But as Virginia brings her friend Rich (Fugit) around, Catherine starts spiraling into madness.

Director Ross keeps the film in one location–the oddly-structured house and its surrounding forest and lake–but the film is quite cinematic. Ross and his longtime cinematographer Sean Price Williams use odd angles and claustrophobic close-ups to set the tone. The film is really economical in its editing, with several long takes making you wait for some kind of explosion that may or may not come. The Queen of Earth script features many monologues, and part of the genius of Ross’ execution is his focus on the listener; this way the expository monologues still develop the friendship between Virginia and Catherine.

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The relationship between Virginia and Catherine is fascinating to behold. Like Persona, Black Swan and Mulholland Dr.Queen of Earth examines the intricate bond that women can form with each other. This film also places that bond in the lens of psycho-horror, and uses the genre to tell its complicated story. Catherine and Virginia can be painfully honest with each other and show true, genuine affection for each other at the same time. And I love the idea of the reversal–these women switch parts throughout the narrative in a mesmerizing way.

Much of the relationship does feel like it was written by a male screenwriter, however. I wonder how the film would be different under the eye of Mary Harron or Amy Heckerling.

Elisabeth Moss is spellbinding. This is a feral, physically demanding role, that finds strength in madness. Moss has an inherent sweetness to her that she exploits to full horrifying effect. Her descent into madness is old school, bringing to mind Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Katherine Waterston is equally terrific, she has an incredibly malleable face that can be used for laughs or to induce high suspense. Her casting adds to the late 60s/early 70s vibe of the film, since she looks like she stepped out of the era (though perhaps I’m influenced by her turn in Inherent Vice).

Patrick Fugit is slimy as Rich, the symbol of patriarchal entitlement. He’s not the most subtle or nuanced actor; he’s better used as a symbol here, without having to create some kind of nuanced character. Kentucker Audley has a few choice scenes, and he’s succeeds in bringing a nagging tension to the film.

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Technically, the film is quite flawless. Williams’ cinematography is serene but menacing. The score by Keegan DeWitt is piercing and terrifying, keeping the viewer on edge with promises (threats?) of psychotic terror. Editing by Robert Greene and Peter Levin is unsettling, creating a hazy maze of flashback and present day. The dialogue is biting and sharp, but can sometimes feel a little self-conscious.

Queen of Earth is an exciting psychological thriller that homages from some pretty excellent films. The film feels like a genre exercise by a male indie filmmaker and the ending may not be totally satisfying to all. Thanks to its lead performances and harrowing execution, Queen of Earth i is a solid entry to the “mad woman” psycho horror subgenre.

Elisabeth Moss is a Mad Woman in 'Queen of Earth'
With a fierce lead performance and a striking execution, 'Queen of Earth' is a major delight.
Rating9
Pros
  • Moss and Waterston are brilliant
  • Cinematography, editing and score are exceptional
  • Unbearable rising tension
Cons
  • Ending may not please all
9Overall Score
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About The Author

Manish first came to love horror through Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Roman Polanski's Repulsion. He still sometimes has to sleep with the TV on after catching the latest scary flick. Manish loves ghost stories, psycho-thrillers and gory horror-comedies. You can check out more of Manish's writing at his personal blog "Mathur & the Marquee" or on twitter @hippogriffrider.