I don’t like writing bad reviews; they’re a waste of time. If I don’t like a movie and the general consensus seems to share the same opinion as me, there’s really no need for me to write 800 words about what we all already know. The only time I feel the need to publish negative reviews is when I see overwhelmingly positive responses to a movie I didn’t enjoy. Not to knock the movie down a peg and not to be the sole dissenting opinion, but to offer an alternate viewpoint in the face of unanimity. Many times I’ve been encouraged to see a movie based on the amount of glowing reviews it received, only to end up agreeing with the scant bad reviews it got after I finished watching it. Long story short: if you generally agree with my good reviews, then perhaps my occasional bad review will save you the time and trouble of seeing something you probably won’t like.
That all said, I watched Queen of Earth because people had been saying such good things about it. I’d seen the trailer – which I didn’t like; always trust your gut, you idiot – but I decided to give it a shot, anyway. The movie centers around two friends, Catherine and Virginia (Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterson, respectively) spending a week together at Virginia’s lake house. The story follows their now-strained friendship and Catherine’s eventual mental breakdown.
Now, I’ve seen great “is she crazy, or isn’t she?” films – y’know, classic Hysterisplotation. Films like Repulsion, A Woman Under the Influence, 3 Women, and Possession, just to name a few. Films that, despite their often unconventional artistic choices, manage to devastate, shock, and sometimes revolt the audience. And regardless of their age, these films still resonate with modern audiences today. Powerful films from powerful directors.
Queen of Earth clearly wants to be like these films, and on the surface it succeeds. Director Alex Ross Perry has done his homework, drawing a lot of inspiration from Altman and Cassavetes. Tight close-ups, long uncut takes, and that wonderful slow zoom-in technique that was so prevalent in ’70s independent cinema. But unfortunately, superficial tricks are where the similarities end. Perry may have the technical aspects down but he’s unable to tell an engaging story the way those masters of the craft did.
I have two issues with the film. First, both characters are incredibly unlikeable. From the get-go it’s clear that Catherine and Virginia despise each other. We never really find out what the basis of this animosity is, but they take umbrage with every single thing the other person says. Every. Single. Thing. We’re given glimpses of their relationship in the past through flashbacks, and even then they still seemed to resent each other. How these two could be deemed friends – or why they’d agree, year after year, to meet for a secluded week at this lake house – is beyond me. And seeing as this film is firmly rooted in reality – as opposed to say, 3 Women or Possession, both of which feature several surreal scenes – I am unable to suspend my disbelief or lose myself in the story the way I did with 3 Women and Possession. Everything in Queen of Earth is presented in a very straight-forward manner, so to believe that these two would be hanging out is completely unbelievable. Adding to the unlikeable-ness of the characters, the movie is filled with lines no normal human being would say and reactions no normal human beings would have. It’s borderline repellant.
My second issue is that there’s no story development whatsoever in its 90 minute runtime, and what is revealed is often confused and muddled. We know Catherine is depressed from (literally) the opening scene. And that’s it. Catherine is depressed, and maybe a little crazy. She goes on the annual trip to her friend Virginia’s lake house. They find childish things to argue about – as they apparently have always done – and Catherine sinks further into her depression. But none of it matters, ultimately, because there’s no culmination. No pay off. Even when things that should carry weight are revealed – like the fact that Catherine’s father also suffered from depression and committed suicide – we the viewer aren’t intrigued the way we should be; we’re not worried about what might happen to Catherine, because despite all of her crying and fragility, she never displays any suicidal tendencies throughout the movie. She just acts a little loopy, bouncing between laughing maniacally and sobbing. There is never the threat/hint/promise of anything happening other than ‘sad woman berated by mean woman’.
All that said, there are a few positives: Elisabeth Moss is terrifyingly good at portraying a mentally broken woman and she pretty much carries the movie. And the score – sparse, plinking piano – does its best to steer the movie in suspenseful direction. And as I said earlier, technically the film is great – great shots, great framing.
I feel like all the positive reviews for this movie have come from people who haven’t seen the classics yet. Whether you’ve watched this movie or not, do yourself a favor and seek out these great films to see how it’s done.