Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Queen of Earth: the Horror of Depression
Depression runs in Catherine’s family. They
are also one of the leading causes of depression in others. Ostensibly, she has
come to her friend’s summer home to relax and get away from her troubles, but
she will really just do her best to make everyone around her miserable in Alex Ross
Perry’s acutely unsettling but undeniably riveting Queen of Earth (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York at the IFC Center.
Catherine has just been dumped by James, the
boyfriend with whom she was so lovey-dovey during last year’s trip to Virginia’s
family vacation home. The timing is particularly bad, coming soon after the
death of her father—a tragedy made worse by the unspoken circumstances
involved. Back then, Virginia did not like James at all, but she does not seem
to be judging him too harshly now.
As Catherine settles in, as best she can, Perry
flashes back to her happier, co-dependent days with James. Virginia was not
expecting her to bring him the summer prior, so she made no secret of her
resentment. Catherine also immediately clashed with Rich, Virginia’s neighbor
and potential love interest, who is decidedly not intimidated by artsy,
pseudo-intellectuals like Catherine. A year later, James is out of the picture,
but Rich is still there, expecting to get lucky with Virginia and rubbing her
the wrong way.
Vexed by memories and annoyed by Rich and
Virginia’s insensitivity, Catherine slides deeper into depression, perhaps
losing her handle on reality in the process. If you ever doubted depression is
absolutely a genuine health risk, just spend some time with Queen. Many of the dangers are readily
apparent, while some are eerily implied. Yet, despite Catherine’s massively
unreliable POV, it is definitely fair to say profoundly bad things are going on
in that summer house.
You can argue how best to classify Queen, but it bears obvious comparison
to Polanski’s Compulsion and
Elisabeth Moss’s lead performance will completely chill you to your bones, so
some might call it horror. However, it also has the uncomfortable intimacy of
Cassavetes and even, Heaven help us, Ingmar Berman. Moss’s work is bold and
disturbing, but tightly controlled and carefully calibrated. There absolutely
no foaming at the mouth or similar such Meryl Streep shtick on display here. The
film is also quite an ensemble piece, featuring first-rate supporting turns
from Catherine Waterston and Patrick Fugit as Virginia and her friend with
benefits. Frankly, nobody is remotely “likable” in this film, but you cannot
tear your eyes away from them.
Cinematographer Sean Price Williams has
amassed plenty of credits (including the terrific documentary Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo and the
highly entertaining Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead), but Queen might
be the film that gets him award recognition. He gives Queen an undefinably retro look, amplifying the dramatic power with
his long-held close-ups. It is a distinctive film in all senses that is likely
to be regularly studied and re-examined for years to come. Recommended for
admirers of psychological dramas (with the emphasis on psycho), Queen of Earth opens this Wednesday (8/26)
at the IFC Center.
Labels: Alex Ross Perry, Elisabeth Moss