Queen of Earth (2015)
Words by Hiba Akmal
Queen of Earth (2015)
Our thoughts on another production from the director-actress duo that gifted us ‘Her Smell'. Watch Moss as Catherine, a bereaved New York City snob in search of a lake-side retreat, devolve into psychosomatic unravelling.
We here at the Marchioness are avid fans of Elizabeth Moss, and it is my honourable duty to give you fellow junkies the low down on our latest recommended fix. Queen of Earth - yet another production from the beloved duo - director Alex Ross Perry and Screen Queen Moss - muse of the dark and disturbed.
Now, in high contrast to the violent combative rage Moss cultivated for her unhinged character in Her Smell - for Catherine, she offers up a more deranged, petulant kind of unravelling. No less hypnotically disturbing, just of a very different flavour.
The opening scene sets the tone. We learn that Catherine’s father, a prominent New York artist, has recently died (of depression) and in the present, she is being abandoned by her now ex-boyfriend. The entire scene is a close up of her face, blotchy with woe, raccoon eyes, tears streaked with mascara bleeding down to her lips. The boyfriend, whose face we don’t actually see responds to her wails with cool and jarring indifference. Yes, I am leaving you at this time of crisis. Yes, to be with a girl I met before your father passed.
To cope with the double tragedy, double loss she retreats for ‘tranquil exile’ to her best friend’s (more on that later) family lake house. The film pivots back and forth between two summers. The current with Catherine in a state of grief, and the prior with her friend Ginny. A flashback to an exchange between the two at the end of the film finally clarifies the context that’s been alluded to throughout and the premise on which it is set.
Ginny: “Maybe someday you’ll be going through this shit and I won’t be there for you so we’ll be even.”
Catherine: “God I hope so”
Well, Catherine...be careful what you wish for.
At the lake house, simmering grudges come to the surface. Catherine’s expectations for a cosy cabin retreat are interrupted when Ginny’s lake-side squeeze becomes a regular, disrupting her tranquillity with his malicious streak of humour. Ginny is very clearly smitten and Catherine, very clearly feeling neglected. But cutting away to the summer prior, It was Ginny in need and Catherine besotted with her summer-time beau…
Queen of the Earth is an exposition into a baggage-laden female relationship, between two rather self-involved, less than likeable female leads. These dynamics are explored through an anachronistic 70’s cinematic lens and setting that is part of its unsettling charm. At the lake house, we see Catherine, traipsing around in a signature white 70’s prairie dress replete with cream frothy lace and matching white sneakers. Ginny, less iconically dons tattered, light wash denim with custom boho dishevelled hair - or maybe that’s just her recluse lake house look.
As the week unfolds, Catherine's descent begins. Ginny’s lurking resentment and her not-so-benign Bae, Rich’s taunting remarks dislodge whatever composure she sought to replenish during the lake vacay. But whereas Moss playing Becky would have likely burned the lake house down, maybe taken a stab at her antagonist (Rich), Moss as Catherine wilts and disintegrates within it.
Throughout the week she constantly clasps her face suffering from an unexplainable phantom pain. A Friday night party at the lake house sends her into delirium. She falls to the ground, writhing as the guests clamour over each other to smother her face in their outstretched hands in drunken giggles. As she escapes to her room upstairs, Rich follows to deliver one final snarling tirade. She flings herself at him like a crazed animal strangling his neck in a chokehold. As he splutters and struggles to breathe, she abruptly turns limp, collapsing with her arms around his legs, whimpering unintelligible apologies.
In a split second, she went from murderous intent to infantilized defeat. You the viewer are sat there strangled in your own set of emotions, somewhere between disturbed and engrossed processing the cacophony Moss’s performance has once again ensnared you in.